Monthly Archives: October 2015

Paul, William Blake, evolutionary morality and you

good and evil | William BlakeFor Paul, good and evil are at war in his heart. He longs to please God with his entire being, but fleshly temptations assail him and make it impossible. Only because of grace, only because of Christ’s sacrifice, is he saved. And freed from this war, he rejoices that Christ has done what he could not do. He rejoices to be in right relationship with God and thanks God for unilaterally removing the barrier that separated him from God.

William Blake doesn’t put evil and good at war. They are both poles of the same reality. In his “Songs of Innocence and of Experience,” he even changes the name of evil into “experience.” When we are innocent children, life is wonderful. But when we grow up, we become aware of temptations and begin to sample them and “experience” life. Ultimately, it was God who made us to grow up in puberty and “wake up” to other realities, according to his view. Blake seemed to revel in the role of an iconoclast, asserting heresy for shock value, much like Edgar Allen Poe did when he forged the horror genre.

What’s your conception of evil and good? A popular theory from evolution dismisses entirely the idea. And since the notion of a completely amoral society is untenable (not to mention denying the obvious inborn conscience we all have), lately theorists have forwarded the notion that we “evolved” morals as “communal” animals. It will be interesting to see what sort of evidence scientists assemble to support this theory. It will be even more interesting to see if they can agree on what sort of behavior is morally acceptable or condemned. In the meantime, it seems that this notion is a frantic attempt to shore up evolution, which fails entirely to account for the intellectual and emotional complexity of humans, which corroborates better the Biblical version than man is separate from the animals, not evolved.

Image from New York Times

Image from New York Times

But while intellectual concepts are floated into public discussion and enjoy moments of popularity and then die out, be careful what concepts you choose for your own life. Because you will be held accountable for your choices. If you reject God because His system conflicts with your personal pleasures, you could wind up in hot water.

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Don’t be a Lilliputian

lilliputiansWe can be so small. Jonathan Swift satirizes the politicians of his day by making parallels called Lilliputians, six-inch high mini humans, who benefiting from Gulliver’s help in a war, order Gulliver to annihilate their enemies. Gulliver demurs, and the Lilliputian king orders his eyes out for treason.

Even though he’s only six inches tall, his ego is gargantuan.

Not forgiving is being small. Being full of yourself is being small. Narcissists are small. Don’t be small (I’m talking to myself).

Shake the snake

shake the snakeWhen Paul and crew shipwrecked, they washed ashore. Paul helped gather wood for a fire, and a snake latched itself on his hand. The natives of the island thought it was karma, that Paul was a murderer and was being judged. But Paul shook off the snake into the fire and was unharmed — Acts 28:5.

This miracle teaches us what we should do when we are bitten — by disappointments, by hurtful words, by unfair treatment.

Just shake it off.

Don’t let it bother you. Move on, forgive, forget. Don’t let the poison fill your body with death.

Whisked from the Gambia River shore, they now play football on Christian middle school in Los Angeles

Christian middle school los angeles

Mosie and Josie pose with coaches for the Lighthouse Church School team in West Los Angeles area.

They were born in The Gambia, the sliver nation centered around the mighty West African river by the same name. Adopted by missionaries, they knew only soccer.

Now, twins Mosie and Josie Bowen are playing football – flag football – as sixth graders at the Lighthouse Church School. After 20 years abroad, their adopting parents returned to Santa Monica to the church that sustained them on the mission field.

“In football you can block, you can catch balls,” said Mosie, who caught his first pass during a game on Oct. 20. “In soccer you just use your feet. Only the goalie can kick it and catch it.”

At first, both Bowen boys struggled with football’s roughness and toughness. They played both defensive and offensive line. More than once, they found themselves shoved to the turf or bulldozed.

Learning has been both physical and mental. Continuing reading about junior high flag football.

Peter Hitchens on atheism, faith and the relationship with his brother, anti-theist Christopher

Peter Hitchens at right.

Peter Hitchens at right.

I set fire to my Bible on the playing fields of my Cambridge boarding school one bright, windy spring afternoon in 1967. I was 15 years old. The book did not, as I had hoped, blaze fiercely and swiftly.

Only after much blowing and encouragement did I manage to get it to ignite at all, and I was left with a disagreeable, half-charred mess.

Most of my small invited audience drifted away long before I had finished, disappointed by the anticlimax and the pettiness of the thing. Thunder did not mutter.

It would be many years before I would feel a slight shiver of unease about my act of desecration. Did I then have any idea of the forces I was trifling with?

In truth, it was not much of a Bible. It was bound in shiny pale blue boards with twiddly writing on the cover, a gift from my parents and until that moment treated with proper reverence, and some tenderness.

In front of a statue of Lenin

In front of a statue of Lenin

But this was my Year Zero. I was engaged in a full, perfect and complete rebellion against everything I had been brought up to believe.

As I had been raised to be an English gentleman, this was quite an involved process. It included behaving like a juvenile delinquent, using as much foul language as I could find excuse for, mocking the weak (there was a wheelchair-bound boy in my year, who provided a specially shameful target for this impulse), insulting my elders, and eventually breaking the law.

The full details would be tedious for most people, and unwelcome to my family. Let us just say they include some political brawling with the police, some unhinged dabbling with illegal drugs, an arrest – richly merited by my past behaviour but actually wrongful – for having an offensive weapon and nearly killing someone, and incidentally myself, through criminal irresponsibility while riding a motorcycle.

There were also numberless acts of minor or major betrayal, ingratitude, disloyalty, dishonour, failure to keep promises and meet obligations, oath-breaking, cowardice, spite or pure selfishness. Nothing I could now do or say could possibly atone for them.

I talk about my own life at more length than I would normally think right because I need to explain that I have passed through the same atheist revelation that most self-confident British members of my generation – I was born in 1951 –have experienced.

We were sure that we, and our civilisation, had grown out of the nursery myths of God, angels and Heaven. We had modern medicine, penicillin, jet engines, the Welfare State, the United Nations and ‘ science’, which explained everything that needed to be explained.

The Britain that gave me this self-confidence was an extraordinarily safe place, or at least so it felt to me as a child. Of our many homes, I was fondest of a modest house in the village of Alverstoke, just across the crowded water from Portsmouth.

It is almost impossible now to express the ordered peace which lingered about the quiet shaded gardens and the roads without traffic, where my parents let me and my brother Christopher wander unsupervised.

Dark green buses with conductors wearing peaked caps would bear us past a favourite toyshop to the Gosport ferry, from which we could view the still substantial Navy in which my father had served.

Then we made our way to the department store where my mother took me and Christopher, neatly brushed and tamed, for tea, eclairs and cream horns served by frilly waitresses.

There was nothing, however, peaceful about my relationship with Christopher. Some brothers get on; some do not. We were the sort that just didn’t. Who knows why?

At one stage – I was about nine, he nearly 12 – my poor gentle father actually persuaded us to sign a peace treaty in the hope of halting our feud. I can still picture this doomed pact in its red frame, briefly hanging on the wall.

To my shame, I was the one who repudiated it, ripped it from its frame and angrily erased my signature, before recommencing hostilities. In a way, the treaty has remained broken ever since. Our rivalry was to last 50 years, and religion was one of its later causes.

My own, slow return to faith began when I was 30, in 1981. By this time, I was doing well in my chosen trade, journalism. I could afford pleasant holidays with my girlfriend, whom I should nowadays call my ‘partner’ since we were not then married, on the European continent.

I no longer avoided churches. I recognised in the great English cathedrals, and in many small parish churches, the old unsettling messages.

One was the inevitability of my own death, the other the undoubted fact that my despised forebears were neither crude nor ignorant, but men and women of great skill and engineering genius, a genius not contradicted or blocked by faith, but enhanced by it.

No doubt I should be ashamed to confess that fear played a part in my return to religion, specifically a painting: Rogier van der Weyden’s 15th Century Last Judgement, which I saw in Burgundy while on holiday.

I had scoffed at its mention in the guidebook, but now I gaped, my mouth actually hanging open, at the naked figures fleeing towards the pit of Hell.

These people did not appear remote or from the ancient past; they were my own generation. Because they were naked, they were not imprisoned in their own age by time-bound fashions.

On the contrary, their hair and the set of their faces were entirely in the style of my own time. They were me, and people I knew.

I had a sudden strong sense of religion being a thing of the present day, not imprisoned under thick layers of time. My large catalogue of misdeeds replayed themselves rapidly in my head.

I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death.

At around the same time I rediscovered Christmas, which I had pretended to dislike for many years. I slipped into a carol service on a winter evening, diffident and anxious not to be seen.

I knew perfectly well that I was enjoying it, although I was unwilling to admit it. I also knew I was losing my faith in politics and my trust in ambition, and was urgently in need of something else on which to build the rest of my life.

I am not exactly clear now how this led in a few months to my strong desire – unexpected by me or by my friends, but encouraged by my then unbelieving future wife – to be married in church.

But I can certainly recall the way the words of the Church of England’s marriage service, at St Bride’s in London, awakened thoughts in me that I had long suppressed. I was entering into my inheritance, as a Christian Englishman, as a man, and as a human being. It was the first properly grown-up thing that I had ever done.

The swearing of great oaths concentrates the mind. So did the baptisms first of my daughter and then of my wife who, raised as a Marxist atheist, trod another rather different path to the same place.

Word spread around my trade that I was somehow mixed up in church matters. It was embarrassing. I remember a distinguished foreign correspondent, with a look of mingled pity and horror on his face, asking: ‘How can you do that?’

I talked to few people about it, and was diffident about mentioning it in anything I wrote. I think it true to say that for many years I was more or less ashamed of confessing to any religious faith at all, except when I felt safe to do so.

It is a strange and welcome side effect of the growing attack on Christianity in British society that I have now overcome this.

Being Christian is one thing. Fighting for a cause is another, and much easier to acknowledge – for in recent times it has grown clear that the Christian religion is threatened with a dangerous defeat by secular forces which have never been so confident.

Why is there such a fury against religion now? Because religion is the one reliable force that stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. The one reliable force that forms the foundation of the concept of the rule of law.

The one reliable force that restrains the hand of the man of power. In an age of powerworship, the Christian religion has become the principal obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power.

While I was making my gradual, hesitant way back to the altar-rail, my brother Christopher’s passion against God grew more virulent and confident.

As he has become more certain about the non-existence of God, I have become more convinced we cannot know such a thing in the way we know anything else, and so must choose whether to believe or not. I think it better by far to believe.

Christopher and I are separate people who, like many siblings, have lived entirely different lives since our childhood.

But since it is obvious much of what I say arises out of my attempt to debate religion with him, it would be absurd to pretend that much of what I say here is not intended to counter or undermine arguments he presented in his book, God Is Not Great, published in 2007.

I do not loathe atheists, as Christopher claims to loathe believers. I am not angered by their failure to see what appears obvious to me. I understand that they see differently. I do think that they have reasons for their belief, as I have reasons for mine, which are the real foundations of this argument.

It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.

It is also my view that, as with all atheists, he is his own chief opponent. As long as he can convince himself, nobody else will persuade him. His arguments are to some extent internally coherent and are a sort of explanation – if not the best explanation – of the world and the universe.

He often assumes that moral truths are self-evident, attributing purpose to the universe and swerving dangerously round the problem of conscience – which surely cannot be conscience if he is right since the idea of conscience depends on it being implanted by God. If there is no God then your moral qualms might just as easily be the result of indigestion.

Yet Christopher is astonishingly unable to grasp that these assumptions are problems for his argument. This inability closes his mind to a great part of the debate, and so makes his atheist faith insuperable for as long as he himself chooses to accept it.

One of the problems atheists have is the unbelievers’ assertion that it is possible to determine what is right and what is wrong without God. They have a fundamental inability to concede that to be effectively absolute a moral code needs to be beyond human power to alter.

On this misunderstanding is based my brother Christopher’s supposed conundrum about whether there is any good deed that could be done only by a religious person, and not done by a Godless one. Like all such questions, this contains another question: what is good, and who is to decide what is good?

Left to himself, Man can in a matter of minutes justify the incineration of populated cities; the deportation, slaughter, disease and starvation of inconvenient people and the mass murder of the unborn.

I have heard people who believe themselves to be good, defend all these things, and convince themselves as well as others. Quite often the same people will condemn similar actions committed by different countries, often with great vigour.

For a moral code to be effective, it must be attributed to, and vested in, a non-human source. It must be beyond the power of humanity to change it to suit itself.

Its most powerful expression is summed up in the words ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’.

The huge differences which can be observed between Christian societies and all others, even in the twilit afterglow of Christianity, originate in this specific injunction.

It is striking that in his dismissal of a need for absolute theistic morality, Christopher says in his book that ‘the order to “love thy neighbour as thyself” is too extreme and too strenuous to be obeyed’. Humans, he says, are not so constituted as to care for others as much as themselves.

This is demonstrably untrue, and can be shown to be untrue, through the unshakable devotion of mothers to their children; in the uncounted cases of husbands caring for sick, incontinent and demented wives (and vice versa) at their lives’ ends; through the heartrending deeds of courage on the battlefield.

I am also baffled and frustrated by the strange insistence of my anti-theist brother that the cruelty of Communist anti-theist regimes does not reflect badly on his case and on his cause. It unquestionably does.

Soviet Communism is organically linked to atheism, materialist rationalism and most of the other causes the new atheists support. It used the same language, treasured the same hopes and appealed to the same constituency as atheism does today.

When its crimes were still unknown, or concealed, it attracted the support of the liberal intelligentsia who were then, and are even more now, opposed to religion.

Another favourite argument of the irreligious is that conflicts fought in the name of religion are necessarily conflicts about religion. By saying this they hope to establish that religion is of itself a cause of conflict.

This is a crude factual misunderstanding. The only general lesson that can be drawn is that Man is inclined to make war on Man when he thinks it will gain him power, wealth or land.

I tried to present these arguments to Christopher in April 2008, at a debate on the existence of God and the goodness of religion before a large audience in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Normally, I love to argue in front of audiences and we had been in public debates before. We had had the occasional clash on TV or radio. We had debated the legacy of the Sixties, in a more evenly matched encounter than Grand Rapids, 11 years ago in London.

Not long after that, there had been a long, unrewarding fallingout over something I had said about politics. Both of us were urged by others to end this quarrel, and eventuallyif rather tentatively, did so.

When I attacked his book against God some people seemed almost to hope that our personal squabble would begin again in public. No doubt they would have been pleased or entertained if we had pelted each other with slime in Grand Rapids.

But despite one or two low blows exchanged in the heat of the moment, I do not think we did much to satisfy them. I hope not.

Somehow on that Thursday night in Grand Rapids, our old quarrels were, as far as I am concerned, finished for good. Just at the point where many might have expected –and some might have hoped – that we would rend and tear at each other, we did not.

Both of us, I suspect, recoiled from such an exhibition, which might have been amusing for others, because we were brothers –but would have been wrong, because we are brothers.

At the end I concluded that, while the audience perhaps had not noticed, we had ended the evening on better terms than either of us might have expected. This was, and remains, more important to me than the debate itself.

I have resolved that I will not hold any more such debates with him, because of the danger that they might turn into gladiatorial combat in which nothing would be resolved and enmity could be created.

I am 58. He is 60. We do not necessarily have time for another brothers’ war.

Here is another thing. When our Grand Rapids hosts chose the date of April 3 for this debate, they had no way of knowing that it was the 63rd anniversary of our parents’ wedding: an optimistic, happy day in the last weeks of what had been for both of them a fairly grim war.

Not all the optimism was justified, and with the blessed hindsight of parenthood, I cannot imagine that our long fraternal squabble did much for their later happiness.

They are, alas, long gone but my brother and I had both independently become a little concerned at how we should conduct ourselves on such a day. We had each reached the conclusion, unbidden, that we did not want this to turn into a regular travelling circus, becoming steadily more phoney as it progressed.

Something far more important than a debate had happened a few days before, when Christopher and I had met in his Washington DC apartment. If he despised and loathed me for my Christian beliefs, he wasn’t showing it.

We were more than civil, treating each other as equals, and as brothers with a common childhood, even recalling bicycle rides we used to take together on summer days unimaginably long ago, which I did not even realise he still remembered.

To my astonishment, Christopher cooked supper, a domesticated action so unexpected that I still haven’t got over it. He had even given up smoking.

I am not hoping for a late conversion because he has won the battle against cigarettes. He has bricked himself up high in his atheist tower, with slits instead of windows from which to shoot arrows at the faithful, and would find it rather hard to climb down out of it.

I have, however, the more modest hope that he might one day arrive at some sort of acceptance that belief in God is not necessarily a character fault, and that religion does not poison everything.

Beyond that, I can only add that those who choose to argue in prose, even if it is very good prose, are unlikely to be receptive to a case which is most effectively couched in poetry.

My brother and I agree on this: that independence of mind is immensely precious, and that we should try to tell the truth in clear English even if we are disliked for doing so. Oddly enough this leads us, in many things, to be far closer than most people think we are on some questions; closer, sometimes, than we would particularly wish to be.

The same paradox sometimes also makes us arrive at different conclusions from very similar arguments, which is easier than it might appear. This will not make us close friends at this stage. We are two utterly different men approaching the ends of two intensely separate lives.

Let us not be sentimental here, nor rashly over-optimistic. But I was astonished, on that spring evening by the Grand River, to find that the longest quarrel of my life seemed unexpectedly to be over, so many years and so many thousands of miles after it had started, in our quiet homes and our first beginnings in an England now impossibly remote from us.

It may actually be true, as I have long hoped that it would be, in the words of T. S. Eliot, that ‘the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’.

Editor’s Note: This piece was written entirely by Peter Hitchens and was published in the UK Daily Mail. I post it for my new friend, Vel, to hopefully answer some of the many questions she poses in my comments. It also may assist and encourage anyone struggling to understand why some of us believe faith is, in fact, the most rational world view. Read it here.

A demon skull basher in Magna, Utah

markell taylor utahThirteen-year-old Markell Taylor wanted to be just like his stepdad, who was a pimp, a rapper, a womanizer and a drunk.

“I idolized him,” Markell says. “People thought he was cool. My own father was not in the picture and my mom was in and out of prison. He was the one male figure in my life. He had money, so he would buy expensive cars and expensive clothes. So he would buy them for me. You’re a little kid and you’re getting hooked up. I thought he had something going on.”

In response to this role modeling, Markell became a runner for a drug dealer. He dropped out of school. He used methamphetamines and he took advantage of girls. “I had all these insecurities because I was hurting and lonely and I didn’t know why I wasn’t worth it for my real dad to stick around,” he said. “But I put on a mask of confidence to get in girls’ pants.”

pastor markell taylor magnaFrom middle school onward, Markell was the life of the party. He had the drugs, so he got it started.

But while he was admired for his swagger and brazenness, his future began to dim. He variously lived with his stepdad in Wendover, Nevada, his grandmother in Las Vegas — and homeless shelters. He was arrested for domestic violence against his mother and police were investigating crimes he had participated in.

“I was out of control,” he recalls. “One time I told my mom I was going to kill the guy who sold me some bad drugs. I wasn’t really going to do it, but I acted like it. She tried to take me to the police, but I jumped out of the car while she was driving.”

At age 14, his mom and stepdad wanted to escape their reputation at Wendover and move to Salt Lake City to get a fresh start in life. Markell didn’t last one day there without his arrest.

Again it was a case of domestic violence. He hit his mom with a pillow, he says, and she freaked out and called the cops. When the police handcuffed him, they asked if there was a gun. Markell stood up to show them his arm, but the police thought he was going to attempt a fight, so they tackled him again.

markell taylorThe cops hauled him off to jail.

“As soon as I got into the back of the patrol car, I started crying like a little baby,” Markell says. “Up until then, I had pretty much gotten away with everything I did.”

The tears in the back of the patrol car and the three days in jail were a starting point for change. He started thinking his life was on a collision course.

Upon his release, he tried to change. Living in a homeless shelter with his mom and stepdad, he enrolled in school. He tried to avoid the hard drugs – meth, coke and mushrooms – though he still smoked cigarettes and pot and still drank vodka and beer.

His parents couldn’t find a job and after weeks of frustration decided to return to Wendover.

“I knew if I went back, I was going to either die because I was running with the wrong people or end up in jail for a long time,” Markell says. “Believe it or not, I prayed that God wouldn’t let me go back to Wendover. I had gone to Vacation Bible School and knew about God.”

As he and his parents were driving out of Salt Lake, he was still praying.

“Two minutes later, the car breaks down,” he says.

They called a friend, towed the vehicle and wound up staying with a Christian family who invited them to church. Seeing that God answered his prayer to stay in Salt Lake, Markell didn’t think twice in agreeing to go.

The visiting preacher talked about conscience, and Markell was panged in his heart.

“I got radically saved. Jesus just touched me,” he says. “I went to the altar weeping like a baby – snot and everything. It was an event – something happened in my life. I got up from that altar not knowing what was going to happen, but I felt that it was all going to work out. My situation was chaotic. I had burnt so many bridges with my family. But I had a peace that Jesus would take care of everything.”

The preacher also felt inspired to give Markell a special message from the Holy Spirit: “You’re going to be a demon skull basher.”

It was in a slang that Markell could relate to.

The young people at the Door Church swarmed him, shaking his hand, making introductions and congratulating him on his decision. Soon, the pastor arranged housing for him so he could get off the streets. He moved in with a family in the church.

He threw himself into all the church’s activities. He used his rapping skills to draw crowds and delivered the gospel in the streets. He cleaned the church. He led Bible studies and preached at youth group. For seven years, Markell was a living example of God’s transforming power. This article was first published on God Reports. See here.

Lilliputian Lighthouse takes on Gulliver rivals in flag football

Lighthouse Church School

The boys from the Lighthouse Church School in Santa Monica

Gregory Heffley, the anti-heroic protagonist of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, thought middle school should be divided by height and weight instead of academic ability to avoid bullying.

His observations have been pointedly spot-on for Lighthouse Church School flag football this season. Drawing on a miniature school population of 60, they have stitched together a team to face towering muscle-bound opponents.

So the Lilliputians from Lighthouse took on another set of Gullivers and lost Tuesday 20-26 against Turning Point School at McManus Park.

“We had a great game. We stopped them on defense,” said LCS Coach Nate Scribner. “We lost by one touchdown, and that touchdown was my fault. They scored on an interception that was my fault. We made better blocks today. We have sixth graders playing against all these older guys.”

Lighthouse is just this year re-starting its flag football program. With inexperienced players jumbled together, it’s been difficult to get everyone doing their job proficiently. Sometimes kids run the wrong play. Blocking has been a downfall.

But through the patient work of the coaches, the team has slowly improved. In a game against Westside Neighborhood School on Sept. 29, the Saints strung together their first progression of plays leading to a touchdown.

Then on Oct. 6 against Crossroads B, they won.

Before half time, the Saints were marching in towards victory 12-7 when coach tried to score just more touchdown to fortify their lead. The fateful pass got picked, and the Saints were trailing at the half 14-12.

In the second half, the Tornadoes — with one player at 5’11” and two players almost as tall — were the first to score, but the Saints responded with a TD and with extra points tied the game at 20-20.

Turning Point scored and then time ran out on the Lighthouse push to counter the score.

“The kids should hold their heads up high,” Coach Nate said. “They pulled a lot of flags. Our guys are just beginning to grow and just beginning to figure out how to run. They played great. I hope they had fun. We should only remember those plays that worked right.” This story originally appeared on the Santa Monica Patch here.

Nun on the run | Mosul refugee now serves in Erbil

hayat

Sister Hayat

When an ISIS commander demanded over the phone to know where the monastery sisters kept the weapons, Sister Abbess guided him by explanations to the library where he found the Bible.

“The Bible is the only weapon we use,” the abbess told him. “I encourage you to start reading it.”

This story was narrated by Sister Hayat, a 30-year-old Iraqi nun who fled Mosul in the summer of 2014 and is now helping refugees in the City of Erbil, as reported by World Watch Monitor.

refugees Mosul

Refugees flee Mosul

She lived a quiet life of devotion in a Dominican monastery near Mosul, northern Iraq, caring for children in an orphanage. She also taught athropology at a local university. Then the Islamic State jihadists overan the city.

“When we realized that running was our only option, all the nuns packed a bag,” she said. “We met in the church and prayed, before kissing the floor one last time and closing the door of the monastery behind us.”

Hayat hoped to get back home soon. Instead, the Islamic extremists who decapitated foreigners and raped women entrenched and resisted American bombing and the Iraqi military.

Hayat is serving in a refugee camp in Erbil, where she spent five months caring for elderly nuns.

Tens of thousands of Christians are in as similar predicament. Their homes are now occupied by IS soldier or Muslims neighbors whom they trusted.

The Islamic State, which has formed its own nation with land siezed between Iraq and Syria, now occupies the monastery that Sister Hayat had called home for more than 10 years.

iraqi-refugees

A refugee camp in Erbil.

A few days after fleeing, an IS commander called the abbess, Sister Maria, to taunt her. “Just to let you know, I’m sitting in your chair now and am running things here,” he said.

Then he asked about arms left behind because he couldn’t conceive that such an important building in the community would be without an armory, Hayat said.

That’s when the abbess led him to the library.

“There are no weapons here, just books,” the man shouted through the phone.
She explained the the Bible is the sword of Spirit and is able to change a person from the inside.

Today, Hayat is fatigued from hardships in the refugee camp. When asked about fleeing from her beloved monastery, she can’t hold back the tears. It was the place she consecrated herself to God 14 years earlier.

Since coming, she’s voluntarily endured hardships to express solidarity with others who are fleeing.

At first, “there was no place for me to sleep, but in these eventful days nobody noticed that,” she said. “So I used the laundry room to sleep on the floor. My bag was my pillow and I made a bed of laundry every night. The nuns never knew and I didn’t want them to know I was staying in such a bad condition because I came to serve. That was my way to express my solidarity with all the people on the run.”

Hayat started a prayer meeting among the youth in the camp.

“The needs of the refugees were so huge that we felt the need to begin praying in an organized way,” she said. “It started as a small seed with just a few youth gathered in the garden of a refugee center. They lit candles and prayed silently or out loud. Many prayed things like ‘God, have mercy upon us!’ or ‘God, please let us go back to our homes!’

“People pray for each other’s needs. Whole families show up asking for prayer and pray for others in return.”

Sister Hayat says Christians in Iraq are “confused, in shock, and feel unsafe. They are without identity and feel completely lost in their own country. They’re asking God what He wants them to do. Should they migrate? Or should they stand firmly in this country, accepting what God is doing here? Pray that God opens doors for them and shows them which one to take.”

This article appeared originally in GodReports.com here.

25 years of marriage today

25th anniversary | marriageMaybe I DO have a perfect marriage.

They say: the perfect marriage is two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other.

Well, I know that I am certainly imperfect, and thank God that Dianna hasn’t given up on me.

Divorce was never an option that we entertained. Some people use the D-word as a threat, a manipulation, an escalation of words that one stupidly hopes will make the other side back down.

We’ve had our bouts, our rough edges, our clash of personalities. Incompatible? Who is compatible? You work at it because it’s worth it.

At the end of the day, the guys who stick it out are happier than the guys who figure they’ve suffered too much and are unwilling to keep trying (on the other hand, there are cases of intransigence and abuse that sometimes necessitate divorce, so I’m not trying to make a blanket statement),

No, no, no, I’m not bragging about how I’ve been better than anyone else. No, I’m stating here that I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been blessed with such a wonderful woman. And I want to be a better man.

I can only thank God for 25 years and pray for 25 more (at least).

This happened by chance, of course

forgiveness at 9/11

From the New York Times.

Of all the pages in the Bible, the one on forgiveness was “fossilized” in steel at World Trade Center Towers at 9/11. No, there’s no God, and He wasn’t giving a message to America, an erstwhile Christian nation. Missionaries should not take up the call to bring love and forgiveness to the languishing lost in Islam. It is all a coincidence, according to non-believers.

I have copied the article from the New York Times without altering a word, which if you were so inclined you can find here:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

So many chapters. So many verses. But these were the words — from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in the Gospel of Matthew — found permanently exposed at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks. The pages of the Bible in which they were printed had fused to a chunk of steel as the World Trade Center collapsed, to be found only months later.

The artifact is to be shown to Pope Francis when he visits the National September 11 Memorial Museum. It was given to the museum by the photographer Joel Meyerowitz, whose book “Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive” is the definitive pictorial chronicle of the months following the attack.

A firefighter found the fragment in March 2002, under the Tully Road, a temporary truck route that covered the last remnants of the south tower. He called out to the photographer, who happened to be nearby.

“This shredded, burned and rubble-covered Bible came to me from the loving hands of a fireman who knew that I was the record keeper of ground zero,” Mr. Meyerowitz said Thursday in an e-mail from Italy, where he now lives.

“My astonishment at seeing the page that the Bible was open to made me realize that the Bible’s message survives throughout time,” he said, “and in every era we interpret its teachings freshly, as the occasion demands.”

Why does God always get the blame?

act of God?They call it “Act of God” insurance, and it covers unforeseeable natural disaster. But I wonder why they blame God for bad and give no credit for the good. Why are 1,000 beautiful things in nature considered accidents of evolution?

In fact, God doesn’t exist for the atheist until he needs someone to blame for wars, massacres and disasters. Then He exists and gets blamed. But He gets no credit for the blessings of life, for love, for beauty, for bounty.

They turn God on like a light switch when evil happens. Then they turn Him off during years of wonderful things.

He didn’t want to play. Then he scored a touchdown.

Santa Monica private school

Shane at right, with his “little” brother, Justin.

Oh yeah – and there’s also the senior, Shane Berry.

Berry bolted off the Seniors Anonymous list Friday with his first touchdown against Westmark School in Encino.

Seniors are the bread and butter of varsity high school football. Two years ago, Lighthouse Christian Academy smashed into the playoffs because of five seniors. This year, three seniors have carried the team – and two of them are struggling with injuries. At game 7,  the Saints are still winless.

Part of the reason why Shane Berry didn’t figure prominently with his fellow seniors was because he didn’t really want to play football in the first place and only reluctantly joined the team last year. The other part of the reason why he was anonymous on the field was because he missed a bunch of summer practices due to a job.

But on Friday, Shane used his big basketball hands to snatch a ball out of the air and scrambled wildly for a touchdown.

“It was great,” Shane said. “The rush when you get a touchdown is spectacular. I didn’t expect it, but when I caught it, ran right to the End Zone, I was like, ‘Oh my God! My first touchdown.’ It was a great experience.” Read more: Santa Monica football.

Suspicion is not proof

It looks like this was a production in England. I gather this is the part where the conspirators smear Caesar's blood on their hands to celebrate their

It looks like this was a production in England. I gather this is the part where the conspirators smear Caesar’s blood on their hands to celebrate their “victory over tyranny.” But Brutus got it wrong.

Brutus broods. He strongly believes power corrupts. So he worries his friends, Julius Caesar, has given way to ambition. Brutus believes to save the Roman Republic, he must kill his friend in Shakespeare’s play.

Never mind that Caesar thrice has refused the crown. Never mind that when the Brutus and the conspirators bow before Caesar supposedly making a petition (really, they just want to get close to knife him), Caesar begs them to rise and speak as equals. Never mind the facts. In the mind of Brutus, Caesar is guilty, so the noble thing to do is kill him.

Brutus believes too much in his own character. He believes he is invariably right. So from accusing his friend, he passes to conviction, without bothering to trifle with evidence.

This hurts.

It is normal to be suspected of wrong-doing at any given moment. But if the authority doesn’t bother with evidence but simply convinces himself and lashes out at you, it hurts.

If you are in Christian leadership, you should exercise much wisdom:

  1. Always use the lightest correctionary discipline possible, not the heaviest.
  2. Be suspect of “revelation or confirmation of the Holy Spirit.”
  3. Be aware of your own personality and flesh and how that might color your judgement.
  4. Use grace. Forgive others.
  5. Don’t insist on having your way but look for God’s.
  6. Allow the Holy Spirit to rule the church. You are not the Holy Spirit.
  7. Know that the Pharisees exceeded their authority and punished the innocent (Jesus). Don’t join the company of the Pharisees.

Hope these tips are helpful.

* A word about this image: Not mine. Not making $ on it.

‘You can fight back from mental illness’

emery.jpg

One-way Jesus, he signals with the forefinger

Emery Lambus, 63, an artist who works outside Smart & Final just East of Santa Monica, is fighting.

“Mental illness is not a dead-end street,” he says, sipping a coke under the October sun. “You can fight back. But you got to have some good support and be willing to take directions. You can bring yourself back from total insanity.”

Emery, a Phoenix native, battles schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, instability and drug addictions, he says. His is the cheering picture of societal dropouts who can work, with support networks and faith, to come back from the edge.

“I still hear the voices,” he says. “They harass me when I don’t go along with the program of doing aberrant things. They’re happy when I’m a total f—k-up. But they get mean and nasty when I’m doing to the right thing – enjoying myself, finding people who enjoy my art, holding conversations with people without mental problems.

Emery strikes the observer an easy-going local with loads of artistic talent. Recently, he was finishing a commissioned splash of pastel colors with four music stars: Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur and John Lennon. He called it “A Blast from the Past.”

Smart & Final shoppers have taken a liking to Emery, as evidence by more than one buying him a drink or snacks as they head to their cars. He’ll always have some friendly words to share with whoever wishes to engage him. Read the rest of the article.

Editor’s Note: Emery has accepted Jesus, but he believes a salad bowl of ideas. Really, I rejoice in all people’s efforts to reconstruct their lives and overcome their demons, regardless if their theology is not exactly mine.

The school where I work

Christian school Santa Monica

Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica

As with any love relationship, there is also heartbreak. When the kids give you grief because they just want to be lazy. When your efforts are criticized.

But as with any love relationship, there are also moments of elation. Mine particularly are when kids come into a relationship with Jesus. Those moments even exceed the famous light-bulb moment when they get something that was previously very difficult for them. Those moments also exceed to glowing satisfaction of seeing kids graduate, succeed in the university and triumph in life.

The school where I work is a small Christian school in Santa Monica called Lighthouse Christian Academy. I have promoted it through SEO, and 15 new students were added this year. Previously, they never got outsiders to come in. Knowing that I have been useful is a satisfaction.

I like making an impact. I don´t want to ¨ride¨ on the success of others. I want to be a key member contributing to the success.

Don´t choose a winning team and sit on the bench and pose with the championship picture. Choose a small team, a needy team, a losing team. And then work to make it a winning team.

A new sheriff in town: Lighthouse Church School’s flag football

Christian middle school West Los Angeles

My son, Hosea, hikes the ball. The losing streak snapped.

After a stinging loss the day before, the Lighthouse Church School flag football team bounced back to beat Crossroads B 22-14 on Oct. 6 – the first victory of the season for the recently rebuilt program.

“The team is improving daily,” said Coach Josh Scribner, whose son Marcus plays on the Santa Monica team. “We’re on a very fast learning curve. Most of our players have no previous experience. But they are committed to each other and working hard.”

Suddenly a 5-game winless streak broke to the jubilation of kids and parents. Learning how to block was a key, coach said.

Lighthouse has been something of a football powerhouse. With its senior pastor a former NFL player and a former principal a Dartmouth champion, you would expect domination in the Pacific Basin League.

But changes in coaching and a drop of student enrollment combined to sack Lighthouse’s program. The middle school has gone three seasons without a team.

That all changed when Pastor Josh Scribner returned from a 10-year pastoring stint in Utah. His son was a Pop Warner star, and he was an accomplished football player. His brother, Nate, a former quarterback at Santa Monica College, also offered to coach.

There’s a new sheriff in town. Read the rest of the article.

Want God’s presence? Try praising Him.

praise-and-worship

Psalm 22:3 says God inhabits the praises of His people. There is nothing to take away pain better in our lives than a loving embrace from God. Losing yourself in worship is an exhilarating, restorative experience. The next time you are in worship service, forget about the person who’s judging you. Forget about the argument you had with your husband coming into church. Lose yourself in praise.

*I don’t own the original image, and I’m not making $ on it.

What’s everywhere?

wash your hands say your prayers cause Jesus and germs are everywhereWash your hands and say your prayers because Jesus and germs are everywhere.

A world without racism

a world without racismThis is the world I inhabit, a place free from hatred, from discrimination. Hearts could be judged, not skin color. People would join hands in a universal recognition of Jesus. Differences — rich, poor, educated, uneducated — would matter squat.

It is with much anguish that I see our world convulsed by racists. It is upsetting to receive messages from whites who justify their hatred. I unfriend them on Facebook. I am fighting for equality, fair treatment, for love.

About this painting: I got it off Facebook and could not determine the original source for this credit. If you know who it is, please let me know. Furthermore, I would be very much interested in using more of his/her paintings. His/her genius inspires me.

The gospel in ballet

Giselle and forgivness

Alyssa Bross in the title role in LAB’s Giselle.

Of course, it’s a silly love story, but I was quite surprised to stumble across the gospel in LA Ballet’s presentation of Giselle. The peasant protagonist falls in love with an unscrupulous prince. Jilted, she goes insane and dies of a weak heart.

When the wilis come to exact revenge and get the dead spirit of Giselle to join their forces, she instead fights for his pardon. Instead of becoming a tormenting spirit, she can rest in peace.

Forgiveness and love triumph over bitterness and hatred. In Giselle, I see something of a Christ figure. He loved us and we jilted Him. He died for our sin and wrought our deliverance from the punishment. I doubt the originator of the ballet intended this interpretation of the work, but, hey, I can’t help myself.

I’m a neophyte to ballet, only drawn in because my friend dances for the LA Ballet. Honestly, I didn’t expect much plot. I thought the storyline would be flimsy, an excuse for super athletes to dance. So Giselle blindsided me. I’m a literature guy and like a good story.

Hopefully, Los Angeles will catch the message. Maybe Giselle can restore marriages as people get persuaded that forgiveness and love can cover wrongs. Maybe Giselle can help end enmity. Maybe we can realize that “he who laughs last” doesn’t really laugh at all but shrivels up into a lifeless bitter blob. Maybe people can realize that we all need God’s forgiveness for our sins.

Photo credit: Via Society News LA

A bright spot on a dismal loss | Christian football team loses vs. Hillcrest

Lighthouse Christian Academy football

Checking Caleb for concussion after he got zonked.

Get that guy some glue.

One of the bright spots in Lighthouse Christian Academy‘s 14-66 loss to Hillcrest Christian of Thousand Oaks was a freshman who just became old enough to play.

Caleb Zerihum made tackles. He foiled receivers. He ran down ball carriers. He scrambled after Tex Hagoski to provide some key blocking on a touchdown run. He grabbed an onside kick. He caught a pass.

And he dropped the ball – twice.

On the onside kick, Caleb nabbed it deftly. Coach had told him to smother the ball, but the freshman is famous for forgetting instructions. Or maybe he thought he would try his hand at being the charging bull Tex who sprints, slashes and bashes his way through defenders.

Caleb is bashful, but on Friday, he didn’t bash his way through the onslaught of Hillcrest tacklers. He got hit so hard he fumbled the ball.

Later in the game, he Caleb caught the ball, and in his eagerness to elude defenders he bobbled the ball. His moment of glory fizzled.

For the next game, will that be Elmer’s or superglue? Continuing reading Christian football.

The half-truth is not the problem

witches macbethIt’s the half lie that hurts.

MacBeth is tantalized by the possibility of becoming king. Already the witches’ oracle that he would become the Thane of Cawdor is fulfilled, and that was an impossibility.

So now, the next oracle is bound to happen!

MacBeth, egged on by his power-hungry wife, takes matters into his own hands. He kills the existing king and frames the guards. As MacBeth is the most outstanding Scottish warlord and hero, he is named king.

But then everything begins to spiral downward. He hires some wicked assassins to kill would-be rivals. He hallucinates the ghosts of those he has killed with treachery. His wife goes insane and then dies. The more enemies — real or perceived — he kills, the more they multiply. Does he enjoy even one moment of the power he lusted for?

The witches followed the pattern of the serpent in Eden: You won’t die, Eve. You’ll become like God knowing good and evil. It was a half-truth, and it brought temptation to fruition (sorry, couldn’t resist that pun) and the ultimate demise of humanity.

Modern society is now based on half-truths as the Bible has been discarded and new ideals and new moralities are spreading.

Can’t clean trash with trash

trashThis may sound silly, but people try to clean up their mind, heart, anxiety, conflicts with — trash! What the world gives you is trash, through its sin and temptation. Inevitably, this brings problems to your life. Then going to the worldly therapist, or blocking out the world with worldly music, or drowning your sorrows in liquor, or self-medicating… you get the idea.

Only Jesus can clean your trash — and my trash. Let us return to the Bible, for therein we will find true answers and solutions.

A quixotic effort to deny God

Don QuijoteDon Quixote got his head full of medieval adventures. So enamored was he of the books he read, that eventually he crossed the line from reality to fantasy and decided to embark on a quest to live the knight’s life.

He got a pathetic horse and a pudgey “page” and went forth searching for wrongs to right. At one point he battles with his sword a windmill, hallucinating that it’s an evil giant. Naturally, he lost badly.

I can’t help but think that the quest to prove there’s no God is equally quixotic. To assume that everything come from nothing without anything working upon is the quintessence of absurdity. Science can only track what is measurable, but what is unmeasurable lies outside of science’s ken. To deny the existence of something outside your experience is the height of arrogance.

To think the universe exists without a Creator is like saying a building built itself without an architect or construction worker.

Dear past

Photo post by @HOsarobo.

Source: Dear past

Helen Shapiro, star from yesteryear, comes to Christ out of Judaism

Shapiro-and-dressOnce more popular than the Beatles, Jewish-born singer Helen Shapiro believed all Christians were anti-Semitic after a boy at school accused her of crucifying Christ.

Shapiro got an early start in music fame as a teen and stormed through England’s top rankings in the 1960s. In 1961, the 14-year-old released her first hit “Don’t Treat Me like a Child,” which peaked at number three on British charts, according to an ASSIST News story by Charles Gardner.

In 1963, the Beatles were actually an opening act for her when they played together on tour. The Beatles’ first big hit “Please, Please Me” hit number one on that tour.

Shapiro-today-300x213Shapiro also rose to the top of the charts with “Walking Back to Happiness.” Though she sang it, she didn’t really find true happiness for another 28 years.

As she rose to fame, she felt empty and cast around for something to believe in. Dabbling in New Age philosophy, she visited clairvoyants and spiritists.

By her late teens, her career as a pop singer began to decline. As beat music rose in popularity, along with newer female singers such as Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black, and Lulu, Shapiro seemed old-fashioned and characteristic of the bee-hived, pre-Beatles, 50s era.

In the 70s and early 80s she performed in stage musicals and jazz concerts. She played the role of Nancy in the musical, Oliver! in London’s West End and made appearances on British television.

By age 40, Shapiro stopped believing New Age notions and doubted the existence of God.

Then someone gave her the book Betrayed by Stan Telchin. As a leader of a Jewish community, Telchin was aghast when his daughter became a Christian. Feeling “betrayed” by her, Telchin embarked on a mission to demonstrate Jesus was a fraud by using the Old Testament.

Instead, he proved to himself beyond a reasonable doubt that Jesus was the genuine Jewish Messiah. The prophecies in the Jewish Scripture, he discovered, pointed invariably to Yeshua-Jesus.

“Isaiah 53 was about how He took our sin. I was gobsmacked,” Shapiro told Assist News. “And Daniel prophesied that the Messiah had to die before the temple was destroyed. It all seemed to point to Jesus.”

Read the rest of the story.

What God does IN us

God's work in usis more important than what He does THROUGH us.

This is sometimes important to remember in our Christian life. Especially when things aren’t going well.

Spieth cometh | Golf’s new darling is a quiet Christian

Jordan SpiethAccording to Esquire magazine, Jordan Spieth is the new “savior” of golf, but he probably would shy away from such journalistic hyperbole: He knows there’s only one Savior.

The wunderkind, who just dethroned golf’s #1 ranked with a win at the FedEx Cup, is a quiet Christian who attends the PGA Tour Christian group with flamboyant buddy Bubba Watson.

“He goes to Bible study with us on the Tour here,” says Watson, who in April put the traditional snazzy green jacket on Spieth to symbolize his joining the ranks of The Masters winners at Augusta.

with ellieOn Sept. 27, Spieth dead-shot putted everything from anywhere on the green to win the $10 million Tour Championship, showing why golf legend Ben Crenshaw called him Wyatt Earp. On the 11th hole, the Texan curled in a 45-foot put, a “dagger” that cut his closest competitor’s hopes, and he took the FedEx Cup.

His five wins this year include two majors and a $23 million haul just on the links – and he’s only 22. Spieth’s youth and dominance are strikingly similar to golf’s last and now-fallen Titan, Tiger Woods.

But while Woods was a vicious competitor, a golfer who would swear profusely on camera and frolic with with ladies off camera, Spieth projects a clean image of good sportsmanship and Christian conduct.

While other champs flaunt pictures with hot girlfriends, Spieth likes to pose with his autistic sister, 15-year-old Ellie.

“She’s my inspiration,” Spieth told the UK’s Telegraph. “She’s the funniest member of our family. I really love spending time with her. It is humbling to see her and her friends, and the struggles they go through each day, which we take for granted. They are the happiest people in the world.” Read the rest.

In Finland, the Rock rocks

Haka Kekalainen

In Finland, where heavy metal is mainstream, a movement melding the lyrics of traditional hymns with the snarl of hard rocking ‘Metal Mass’ is drawing sinners through churches’ doors.

In 2006, Haka Kekalainen, a pastor with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, decided with four other heavy metal aficionados to do the unthinkable: wedding their passion for rock with their love for the Rock.

“We didn’t change the lyrics of the hymns,” says Kekäläinen, a 50-year-old with a ponytail who drops his leather clothes for priestly garb on Sundays. “We only changed the musical arrangements to fit the rhythms of metal music. The hymns contain some very cruel words. It fits with metal music.”

The first “mass” where metal hymns were played was packed by 1,300 in the Temppeliaukio Church of Helsinki, Kekalainen, according to the website This is Finland. More than 100 similar Metal Masses have been offered throughout Finland since then, and all 8,000 copies of the subsequent album Metallimessu were snapped up. The recording hit #12 on Finnish billboard charts and stayed in the top 40 for three weeks.

Metallimessu

“It was really good,” Akseli Inkinen, a 17-year-old with long, messy hair, told The Washington Times. The pews get packed with teens who pump the air with fists while the lead singers mosh around the stage.

Mika Mäkinen, a 30-something man with his blond hair in a ponytail, eschews normal church services. But since his first Metal Mass, he’s become a regular to the services, the rock and hearing the Word of God. “This is my ninth time,” he told This is Finland. Read the rest

Editor’s note: My student at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica wrote this article as an assignment.

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