Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Elijah on the Sideline

Have you ever been kicked in the teeth, thrown in the mud, bent over in pain, with your enemy standing over you... taunting and powerful? 

Or worse, has there been a season of winter... winless.. and there doesn't seem to be a heartbeat left and no friend on the horizon?

We almost always think of the Bible in terms of wins and perfection. But the Bible is more about loss and depression. It has few level plains.... everything in the Bible seems to model human existence as short peaks and deep, dark valleys. 

If there is a passage that speaks to our life in times of isolation and darkness, there is no more powerful passage than the account of Elijah running from Jezebel in I Kings 19. There is enough content in these 22 verses for an entire book.

THE STORY OF TWO MOUNTAINS:

Elijah was a prophet with power. There is no more public and powerful victory in the Old Testament than the one on the top of Mount Carmel when Elijah called down fire on the prophets of Baal. Elijah's story is one of dramatic showdowns and extremes. He is a man fed by ravens and who prays down rain.

But there is another mountain that Elijah will end up up on.... just a few chapters in your Bible... but the journey was 40 days and nights... only 260 miles... but when you are wandering in a state of loss and darkness, everything is slow and wearying. 

A MAN ON THE RUN: Emptiness, Fear, Loneliness, and Isolation

Often after great highs, we sink into holes.

Hal Higdon has an entire section in his book, “Marathon- The Ultimate Training Guide” devoted to ‘Post-marathon Blues”.“We focus our lives on this one event for 5 months- and then its done” reflects a Melbourne Beach, Florida runner “Now what?You have the great high of race day, especially when you finish or meet your goal...but soon after- there is this tangible reality of emptiness.

It isn't just in running....Ernie Conwell works for the NFL Players Association. He was a college standout for the University of Washington and achieved great accomplishments as a pro. He was drafted by the Rams in 1996, won a Super Bowl after a horrific knee injury, named a captain for the New Orleans Saints- An All-Pro selection in 2001.

I had the privilege to have Ernie coach with me in Nashville and I loved hearing him speak to men about his miraculous journey back from the knee injury and what it felt like to compete in the NFL.

But you could hear a pin drop when he explained the saddest reality of all......

Right after his Super Bowl win - the pinnacle of a sport achievement- a lifetime pursuit that organizations invest millions to get, and individual's pour blood, sweat, and tears to grasp...
In the locker room...right after winning THE SUPER BOWL!.... after hugs and laughter...
a lot of grown men sat there with empty stares on their faces... now what?


This isn't to minimize the lasting memories or value of the accomplishment. It is a recognition of all human existence... the thrill is momentary and often less than satisfying.

It isn't just in big things... it is in almost every aspect of life.

I always thought it was appropriate that Pip experienced all the shock of seeing his world collapse in the classic novel, “Great Expectations”.

“All the truths of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew.”

But it was the subtle letdowns that he noticed first:

My (new) clothes were rather a disappointment, of course. Probably every new and eagerly expected garment ever put on since clothes came in, fell a trifle short of the wearer's expectation.

So RIGHT after Elijah's great victory... he get's word that Jezebel was making a promise... she was guaranteeing the death of Elijah!

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. [2] Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” (1 Kings 19:1–2 ESV)

And Elijah grew VERY afraid:

Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life ....

Have you ever run from something that is scary? ... I have.... one time as a boy I jumped a fence and a german shepherd ran toward me... I turned and ran so fast and so full of fear that I leaped over the chain link! The panic! Yes, usually there is danger... but we also are running from something that we can't see anymore, and in our mind the beast is growling and drooling and about to snatch us...

When a powerful enemy puts you in their site... it can create such a panic.  But with Elijah, he had just publicly stood up to the state and the prophets of darkness... why run now? I think it was the nature of her vow... it sounded drop dead serious and it made Elijah not only quiver, but run.. and the running creates thought distortions as well.

[4] But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 

One of the alarming statistics coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic is the staggering amount of suicides and crises of anxiety that are as dominant as the plague itself!

The CDC reports that during June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.

So where do we go and what do we do when these thoughts begin to overtake us?

Mental health is a very complex issue and usually there is not an instant cure. In Elijah's case, the Lord intervened in a very supernatural way... but there are principles here that can help all of us. Living moment by moment and taking steps is a type of miracle... and we should celebrate all victories, even the tiniest ones!

DON'T MISS THE BROOM TREE

 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” [6] And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. [7] And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” [8] And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:5–8 ESV)


At some point our human energy meets its limit and we fall down... incapable of going forward. In the middle of the desert, the Lord had been growing a broom tree, some of which can grow to heights of 9 feet or more. Years previous, it was just a shoot, struggling to survive in the harsh heat and dehydrating winds. But God knew it would serve a purpose ( and many more we will never know) to hide the prophet in pain. And there Elijah was fed by angels. On two occasions, as he woke up... maybe years later he thought it a delirious dream ...... but we know better. God feeds us as well when we reach the end of the rope. The text that comes at an unusual time. A song we hear. A stranger we meet. We pass it off later as a coincidence, even at times we run away God's angels- but they won't stop until you have been given enough to finish the journey and get back on mission.

Just a note- it doesn't take 40 days to get from Carmel to Horeb and it doesn't take 40 years to get from Egypt to Canaan. But we never get to go in a straight line anywhere when it comes to matters of faith. We fight the path and God has to nudge us bit by bit. This is not a hike in a meadow, this is a wrestling match all the way! And when we finally get there, we always laugh at why it took us so long!

THE AMAZING ENCOUNTER THAT CHANGED NOTHING AND EVERYTHING

So this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [10] He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” [11] And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. [12] And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. [13] And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [14] He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:9–14 ESV)

What a mystery and what a moment!

God asks... "What are you doing here?". Don't you love the questions of God! "Adam, where are you?"
"Peter, who do men say that I am?"

God knows the answers.... but he LOVES the interaction!

And those questions can haunt, can convict, and uplift... sometimes ALL at the same time!

What we miss here is the passion and conviction of the two answers, even though the words are the same!

I really got knocked down this week when I learned some very sad and disturbing news about one of my heroes, Ravi Zacharius. No need to go into the details, but it made me sad. Combine that with some physical fatigue, a nagging calf injury, and a week full of complaints and grumbling and I was knocked flat.

And it is easy to ask in those moments... "Is God there? and Does He care?"

But even through the winds, and earthquakes, and fires... His still small voice nourishes me to keep crawling. And what is our response? Get up and get on mission.

And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. [16] And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. [17] And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. [18] Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15–18 ESV)

God is there... He does care... and we are NEVER alone. There is no such thing as the 'last Christian on earth' though the devil wants you to believe that.

So where are you?

A failure because of sin?.... yes, that happens to everyone, even those we think are bullet proof (heed the lesson there).

The target of an enemy? Yes, sometimes we run and the thought distortions grow!

A let down after a high?... yes, that is a normal existence, listen for the small voice!

Worn down and exhausted? As you lay down, look for the broom tree... nourishment is coming.

Lonely and without a friend? Hang in there... keep loving and keep serving

As Elijah went on in obedience, he picked up a friend.

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. [20] And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” [21] And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. (1 Kings 19:19–21 ESV)

My mom had a strange obsession with the Blood, Sweat, and Tears song, "And When I Die".. the chorus went like this.

And when I die, and when I'm gone
There'll be one child born
In this world to carry on, to carry on

I did NOT like the song... I told her it was stupid and she just laughed. But there is a lot of truth there-  our seasons will come to an end and we will be too frail to go on the journey one day. But we can cheer from the sidelines and encourage those that will then be walking a well worn path!

We must be willing to train (disciple) the next generation to live for Christ. Hard times are coming for those who cling to Christ. But don't fret- love them well and shepherd their hearts.

When we serve other people, it helps to lift us up out of fear, worry, anxiety, and depression.

After some rest, some fishing, prayer, a day of snow... there came the still small voice and I was ready to go again!

May we all be led to keep walking in Him!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Dr. Gary White: Memories of Coach Bryant

Every Jan. 26, I post a remembrance of Coach Bear Bryant who passed away on Jan. 26, 1983. These posts are on my blog, jayopsis.com, but I also keep them at one site: 

https://bearbryantmemories.wordpress.com/author/jayopsis/

I am more than THRILLED to have this year's post from Dr. Gary White. I asked him in early January to consider being a guest contributor, and was SO HAPPY that he chose to submit his tribute. 

Dr. Gary White was inducted into the Etowah County Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. Here is the bio from that induction ceremony:

Dr. Gary White had a strong career working for the University of Alabama, beginning when he was a student manager from 1957 to 1961. He later worked for the school as a graduate assistant football coach, a football dorm director, an administrative assistant in the athletic department and as assistant and associate athletic director before retiring in 1996. He also was a talent scout for the Dallas Cowboys in 1962 and 1963. (source: The Gadsden Times, April 12, 2015)

Dr. White was especially helpful to me when I first stepped on campus in August of 1982. He worked extremely hard to take care of me and he constantly encouraged me in my walk with Christ.

I hope you enjoy what he wrote as much as I have!

Dr White writes:

It was at the end of the 1957 University of Alabama football season my freshman year that we first learned that a man by the name of Coach Paul Bryant had been hired as the Athletic Director and Head Football Coach.

We were coming off of a third losing season under Coach Whitworth. (note: Jennings B. "Ears" Whitworth was 4-24-2 in his time as Alabama's head coach from 1955- 1957) 

No one had heard of Coach Bryant other than the fact he was Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at Texas A&M.We knew he had been successful there, but did not know the full story especially what he put their team through at Junction,Texas an old army outpost of some sort.

It didn’t take us long to realize he was a 'no nonsense' coach and that he was all business. He met with the varsity and laid out his plan for how we were going to turn the football program around. He had few rules, just enough to know the little things would make the difference. He told the team that day, "Everyone does the big things, but are you willing to do all the little things that make the difference between winning and losing?"

He also told them, in very plain terms,  if they were not willing to work hard and make a sacrifice that he would help them go somewhere else to play ball.

There were 150 players on scholarship at that meeting. 

In the fall of 1958, our first game with LSU in Mobile there were only 36 on the travel squad.
In the middle of the season, we played Tennessee in Knoxville and we were down two more.

The demand for sacrifice, hard work, and doing all the little things left us with 33 players on both sides of the ball because one of the 34 was a red shirt! 

Soon after that first meeting with the team, Coach Bryant called all the managers to his office. There were about 20 of us. Some I had never seen before that day.  (My high school coach, Jerry Watford - an All SEC guard at Alabama- had put in a good word for me and I had received a partial manager's scholarship). 

Coach Bryant looked at us for a few minutes before telling us- "You are all fired, except the head manager. I may hire you back if you prove to me that you are willing to work."

I had grown up working, so that didn’t bother me a bit and I went after it with everything I had. 

So at the beginning of the season, being a true man of his word, Coach Bryant hired me back. At that point there were now only two of us- the head manager and me! We started that 1958 season as the only two managers. Then, at mid-season, the head manager graduated... and I was the only manager left!

And so I worked for Coach Bryant .... for 24 years.... and I knew I could fully trust him. He was a man of his word. In all of those years, he never once lied to me.

That same truth was evident in what he told his players.

The freshmen in the fall of 1958 composed his first signing class. I was in his very first meeting with them and he gave his word to them. 

"If you do everything we ask of you, in four years you will be national champions." 

And in four years, because they believed him, that first signing class were crowned the 1961 National Football Champions.

And that team set the bar for all teams to follow. Coach Bryant’s teams won national championships in 1961, 1964, 1965,1973, 1978 and 1979!

During football recruiting season we would meet with the recruits and their families collectively.

Coach Bryant told every recruiting class the same thing:  "If you come here, the only thing you will receive is a scholarship which consists of tuition, fees, room and board along with the opportunity to play football."

As I listened to this year after year, I knew the meaning.... we were going to abide by the rules. 

I also enjoyed hearing him say to these young men, "At Alabama, I want you to to grow spiritually, mentally, and physically... in that order."

(Over the course of his service, Dr. White wore many hats and was promoted to a valuable role in Athletics Administration)

One of my duties in Coach Bryant's last years was to keep his personal books after hours.

I can’t and won’t mention the countless number of churches he supported financially.

For 12 years after I was saved,  I was also the advisor to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes on campus.

At the end of each year, Coach Bryant would hand me a generous check to fund our FCA Chapter for the year. We met each Wednesday night and at the end of our program, we would have refreshments simply because of Coach Bryant’s generous heart! So when he told the recruits he wanted them to grow spiritually, he backed it up by helping the FCA.

Coach Bryant was a players coach.

He loved his players.

He expected a lot out of them in practice and games, but he didn’t expect any less of himself.

It was truly a blessing for me to have the opportunity to work for him those twenty four years!

THANK-YOU DR. WHITE FOR YOUR SERVICE AND THESE MEMORIES! ROLL TIDE!



Saturday, January 23, 2021

Don't Panic in God's Plans or Purposes

(The months of January and February, I am dedicating my personal study to current and historical views concerning the conflict of kingdoms that Christians wrestle with at all times, but seem to be crystalizing in trend of current culture. Any one post can lead to mis-understanding and a mis-application. Also, there are unanswerable questions because much of this is applied through principles based on personal situations where there are often multiple responses allowed. My main goal is to flesh this out personally, and possibly inspire others to wrestle and prepare for future situations)

This has been such an encouraging and refreshing journey for me personally. I have no issues with how God chooses to orchestrate the circumstances of my life. His plan is better than my plan and His timing is so perfect.

Don't get me wrong- I fight Him so much... He likes our wrestling matches.

But what we have lost in this world of instant decisions and opining at the click of a button is a process of understanding and learning how we can be better by deliberation and patience.

I'm like any human... I can get red hot on an issue and my emotions bubble up right out of my mouth, or my text, tweet, email...

We live in a compartmentalized world - our homes, cars, calendars, activities are segmented. I sometimes liken this to a world of bubbles and we just float through with much less exchange and interaction that I understand former times to have been like.

It is getting worse- we don't even look at one another anymore. I am by nature an introvert (I know you don't believe that) but my Meyers-Briggs (see 4/26/2007 post) confirms what I have always known- that I live more inside than outside. But, in a strange way, I love to interact with others. Usually, just an eye contact and a nod, or smile.

In my last few years walking high school hallways, I continue to notice that a significant number of students did not look up and catch eyes a lot- not to me or anyone else. I sometimes even do a little experiment where I would and say a subtle but pronounced 'morning' as a student walked by and they never acknowledged any receipt of it.

Now this was in no way scientific or provable, but my fear is that privatization/compartmentalization has created isolation, especially in young people. And isolation is not good- "it is not good for man to be alone"- the darkness, loneliness, and silence can be deadly. Covid has exasperated this!

This is where God's Spirit is pressing me. I have gotten totally lost the concept of being in the world but not of it. Sure, some are 'in the world and OF the world' but just as extreme and fruitless are those who are totally 'out of the world'. This is not easy, it is messy, and it is a struggle- but we have to stay engaged or we will lose everything. And if Christ's voice goes silent- the darkness and decay will spread like gangrene.

Recently I re-visited some of my devotions from proverbs.

Proverbs 22:17-23:11 is interesting because it seems to borrow/use/parallel wisdom from an Egyptian pharaoh, Amenemope. Some people really get bent out of shape by this. These Egyptian influences can be argued to include some of Moses' writing as well. Skeptics or critics will use this as evidence that Bible is myth- Hebrew mythology no different than Egyptian or Greek mythology.

None of this bothers me- in fact if you study other faiths you will see that almost ALL belief systems contain some truth and can be articulated rather rationally and follow the laws of logic with some coherence. That is because at some point, everything lands on what is TRUE. If there is no final land or mass of substance i.e. truth- then all of it is endless mirrors and smokescreens. Some people supposedly got rich selling Amway distributions, but down the line someone actually had to buy some soap or there was no real revenue.

This does NOT mean that you can believe whatever faith system you want to and be OK. No- there are right and wrong answers. Just because something has some truth does not mean it to be THE TRUTH. And this is a point where we get hammered by popular culture- isn't is ARROGANT of me to think that I am the one holding the real deal? As politely as possible we respond- All truth claims are exclusive and can be construed as arrogant because truth does not budge. But it can be construed as well that ANY truth claim can seem arrogant even if the truth claim is that there is no truth. Saying Jesus is the only way to heaven is bold and exclusive, but saying ALL paths lead to God does the same thing. Our job is to speak this truth boldly, but also in love. Right, but not dead right.

A guiding principle helps me here- God made all things- there are a lot of neutral things that He made that we have turned into evil things by elevating them into ultimate things or abused them by breaching the boundaries of what the Creator intended. As Christians, full of grace and mercy, we can stand in full frontal view of these things and use them as teaching points- as education- and launching points for the gospel.

Sure, there is danger here- we are men who are as easily entangled with the world as anyone. But I wish we were less prudish sometimes and addressed real life issues, not with cringing embarrassment, but with beautiful gospel proclamation. Example: I constantly ask my players to consider the language that they allow on their playlists. We land on them pretty hard if we hear  it by way of their car speakers or weight room surround sound. We don't allow it- but I don't freak out if they have it- I don't act like they are super sinners for allowing it. Instead, I try to teach through it- why is this inappropriate? How do others see them? What does this message say about women? And what if they were a dad? And the conversations eventually lead back to the gospel.

Our weight room rules are not the gospel- it is my way of creating a healthy environment for the best, long term benefit- but I don't fall on the ground shrieking about their horrible sin. We turn it off, I give consequences to make sure they understand the boundary- and we move on.

But believers tend to be their own worst enemy here- I have been bashed over the years by Christians. Why do we teach "The Great Gatsby"? It had bad words. Why do we allow secular music on our highlight tapes or in our musical productions? Why did I reference a particular movie? My response is always measured and I have to be careful to try not to offend- but the bottom line is still- There IS truth here and I am reclaiming THIS TRUTH AS GOD"S TRUTH. This is an extreme example, but when Mick Jagger sings 'I can't get no satisfaction'- he is giving a gospel opening here. Paul even used this technique on Mars Hill with a pagan altar. "Shrewd as serpents- innocent as doves"- not removed...ENGAGED!

Does this mean we can't create greenhouse buffers for children and education? No, I fully believe you should protect the innocence and not be the one to spill the conscience- but the reality is that culture does filter in by osmosis- you find sin/worldliness in christian institutions usually in correlation to the mores of the culture. These places are not cocoons- they are labs to teach God's word and proclaim the gospel and instruct students with age appropriate material about how to discern. We don't scream 'unclean' - we teach and admonish. It is a tough balance and cannot be done by policy, it has to be done by leadership. It has to be a community effort as well.

The point here is that we can use movies, music, and yes, even non-christians, to teach God's truth .... what He desires and why we should trust Him. But this means we have to recognize it as well and not glorify it. Sin has consequences... but we are speaking to broken people and there is no need to break a bruised reed.

Now I know that could mean that I am using worldly wisdom as an excuse to see it all or do it all and justify it as educational- NO- How can we who died to sin still live in it? I just want us to be real and 'turn on ALL the lights' of God's creation and truth. 

The writer of Proverbs is wise to parallel wisdom of other cultures and faith systems because ultimately all men are in God's image and all truth is God's truth. All men have a capacity to know God- All men have sin- and all men need God's grace and mercy through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ- and all men will appear before the Creator who is a just, wise, and fair judge. 

Am I a universalist? NO. Is it OK to hope that Christ will suffer none to perish?- YES. Will there be men and women who by utter defiance and rebellion send themselves to hell and foolishly turn down the free offer of forgiveness by repentance and faith? The Bible seems to say, sadly, YES.

We get a lot of this here in Proverbs CH 22:

verse 1 - A good reputation is more important than great riches- We all desire for our NAME to be a good name. Once our NAME is ruined- we have lost so much that not even great wealth can heal. I know this sounds like a broken record- but this again is why gossip is such a deadly sin. Satan is always attacking good men- and if he can't get them to sin- he will next start the whisper campaigns and see if he can tarnish their reputation with innuendo and even lies. We must all seek to eliminate that!

Famous verse 6- "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." #1 This  Proverb is a principle and NOT a promise. #2 Teenage rebellion is not necessarily a trend- it is funny how kids do end up like parents for better or worse. #3 Have your home filled with the things of God- in attitude and love as much as music and rituals- and your children will develop a taste for God and an ear for God. #4 This is a path you are engraving- a way- a habit- repetition is good- but at some point all you are doing is pointing and praying- you are not responsible for the product- you are to pray and press the process.

Finally, I love the END of Ch 22:

28 Do not move an ancient boundary stone
   set up by your ancestors.

This is one huge reason why I study the reformed fathers of the faith- we can glean from our previous heroes- progress is not always progress in the right direction.


29 Do you see someone skilled in their work?
   They will serve before kings;
   they will not serve before officials of low rank.

This is my biggest encouragement to just keep my head down and keep running. I just want to get better every single day. At some point, God will do as He wants- but my greatest joy is that today I serve at the pleasure of MY KING!

I get sad when I see so many Christians give in to the 'doom and gloom' crowd.... let's stand firm, be forgiving, and let our children see us steady in the storm!


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Proclamation Without Separation


(The months of January and February, I am dedicating my personal study to current and historical views concerning the conflict of kingdoms that Christians wrestle with at all times, but seem to be crystalizing in trend of current culture. Any one post can lead to mis-understanding and a mis-application. Also, there are unanswerable questions because much of this is applied through principles based on personal situations where there are often multiple responses allowed. My main goal is to flesh this out personally, and possibly inspire others to wrestle and prepare for future situations)


How Christians need to respond as critics and opposition rises in our culture is one of the great struggles and questions of our day. Our collective, bold, gospel oriented responses at this very fragile moment is crucial. 

We have to be praying for God' Spirit to empower us to guide us and His Word to give us wisdom. And we will need to be ready to encourage and support one another if a storm sweeps through. 

This is not a time for fear... this is an exciting time to point to our Savior.

Strange and turbulent times indeed.

A few years ago, I read a series of replies to an article by a college student who wrote about a living a life of faith and loving others who see the world in differing lights. I was super impressed with his tone and approach.

The comments.... were not so kind.... the attack of the elites came in a full frontal force of mockery and criticism.

The author of the article was accused of everything.... the general opinion (not all) was that he was racist, homophobic, oppressive, intolerant, uneducated, and hypocritical.

This correlates with a lot of what we are hearing on college campuses nationwide where traditional speech is being blocked, shouted down...even to the point of violence.

I wish I had time to fully explore how Francis Schaeffer accurately predicted this in his writings before his death in the early 80's.

One of his main points included a prediction that there will be a rise of elites who fill the vacuum left when a society abandons absolutes. (How Should We Then Live? pg. 224).

There always seems to be a group of individuals who honestly believe that they care more and know more and so should control our lives. They take away our freedom for our own good.

Jesus Himself had to deal with elites .......


MARK 12:18 And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
24 Jesus said to them, Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”

CONTEXT

This account in Mark 12 is on Wednesday of the last week of Jesus’ life. The conspiracy that will lead to His arrest and crucifixion is growing. This chapter gives us snapshots of the conspirator’s tactics and attacks.

The Parable of the Tenants (vs. 1-11) provides the backdrop that people attacking God’s servants and killing them is a sad and consistent testimony of man.

He has already avoided the trap of the Pharisees and some of Herod’s representatives who wanted to paint him as a rebel against Rome (‘Render to Caesar’ vs. 13-17) and now he finds Himself confronted by the Sadducees.

In my personal reading, I think it is easy to mischaracterize these ‘sects’ of Judaism and it is a mistake to lump them all together under one umbrella of faith.

PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES- The Elites of Biblical Times


Pharisees were everywhere. In the 400 year period between the Old Testament and New, the Pharisees grew in prestige and power. They roamed the streets, oppressing the people to follow all the mechanized dictates of their law. They had corrupted the Word of God by adding layer and layer of rules and regulations.

They used their teaching to indoctrinate the masses that God was pleased by their rule keeping. And as all religions of works do- created a spiritual class system of ‘compare and compete’. Pharisees were numerous, influential, and extremely proud and protective of their practices.

The Sadducees were a minority. They were less visible, confining their sect to the Temple. They were strict constructionists… not accepting any text of authority beyond the five Books of Moses. They were the elites and in their aristocratic circles had found an ally in Rome.

Even though they were a minority, early historians comment that they were the most vile and ruthless in fear and oppression. Pharisees were pragmatic and needed to get the participation of the people- Sadducees had the corner on the truth and did not care if anyone else followed- they had Roman firepower if they needed it.

Sadducees were most noted for their rejection of a resurrection because they could not find firm evidence for it in the Pentateuch AND they found the Pharisee’s fanciful speculation about it rather ridiculous.

THE CONFRONTATION WITH THE CHRIST

It looks like the Sadducees are trying to kill two birds with one stone- take advantage of the Pharisee’s blunder (vs. 13-17 Questions “Render to Ceasar”) and show both Jesus and the Pharisees as ignorant of the true Word of Moses.

Paul wrote in I Corinthians: “we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.”

Intellectual elites tend to be engulfed in arrogance.

Jesus’ response to their theoretical situation completely flies in the face of their self supposed superiority.

“Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” and again at the end of the passage, “You are quite wrong”.

To pile on, Jesus goes to Moses himself, to prove His assertion:

And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.

He uses their own proof text to destroy a hallmark of their twisted theology.

C.S. Lewis has the famous quote in his book, The Great Divorce,:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell chose it.”


As I walk the aisles of any bookstore, I see rows and rows of writers who in arrogance proclaim that either God is not there or He is not needed. They are modern day Sadducees who deny the resurrection and use their proof text of reason.

The antithesis to this is to cry out to God for a heart of humility, a yielded spirit, and a will that is open to His rule.

And I fear those who clinch their fist- bow up and live according to the facts as they see them. Men are not omniscient enough to be that sure.

Now... one last reality... this adversarial wind of secular critics is not going away anytime soon.
And I doubt you will ever WIN any arguments. 

The key is to follow the Lord's lead, love people, speak truth in love, and hope you win people in time.

Continue to challenge yourself to avoid the traps of intellectual elitism. Those who enter the kingdom of God do so in childlike trust and humility.

  • Don’t use your dogma to dominate others. This doesn’t mean you can’t take hard stands, but reason with others, winsomely persuade opposition, and diligently pray for those who resist. Hard to do on the internet.... take time with people.
  • Those who are MOST wrong are those who see no possibility of being wrong.
  • There are absolutes- even Jesus says the words, ‘You are wrong’.
  • That is the beauty of the gospel message- it is not about those who are right, it takes care of the humble sinners who are wrong.

Final Point: Do we ever confront?

Absolutely.... yes.

I have always been impressed that Paul confronted Peter- to his face, and in the presence of others.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. [12] For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. [13] And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. [14] But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11–14 ESV)

He was a brother to Peter- earlier in the letter he said this:

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:18 ESV)


So there are times we HAVE to stand and speak up... it takes wisdom and courage... so we need to do it carefully and prayerfully.

When we speak the truth in love... it isn't always going to be well received and it isn't always going to be voted by the elites as 'kind'- you have to truly pray for love that conquers even misunderstanding.

And the cruelest part of this is that the 'popular vote'- the woke capitalists, the media totalitarians, the identity politics crowd, the hypocritical academic intellectuals.. all will stand up and say that we are the fools.. and you have to be willing to love them and pray for them in the face of their venom.

Can you do it? That's what Jesus did.....

We don't retreat... we lead with the gospel of grace.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Dangers of Dissent

 

(The months of January and February, I am dedicating my personal study to current and historical views concerning the conflict of kingdoms that Christians wrestle with at all times, but seem to be crystalizing in trend of current culture. Any one post can lead to mis-understanding and a mis-application. Also, there are unanswerable questions because much of this is applied through principles based on personal situations where there are often multiple responses allowed. My main goal is to flesh this out personally, and possibly inspire others to wrestle and prepare for future situations)

I have a confession to make... I did something really silly in the winter of 1984 that I am confessing to right now. I have others who did this with me... (and you can add your confession in the comments at the end of this post to come clean if you need to).

I am writing a rather long story to give a lot of context... then make some points about human nature and dangers of dissent.... these types of actions should always come with many warnings.

In the fall of 1982, I was invited to walk on at the University of Alabama.. what turned out to be Coach Bryant's last season. You can read more posts about that on jayopsis.com in posts from January 2010  and more detailed series in Jan 2013 or even more from my website dedicated to Coach Bryant:


https://bearbryantmemories.wordpress.com/author/jayopsis/

Over the years, I have had an opportunity to give my 'walk-on' talk to a number of individuals with things I learned from my experiences, especially MISTAKES I made. The very first person to receive this instruction was a young Dabo Swinney when he was a senior at Pelham high school and was about to walk-on at Alabama.

The following story is part of the talk. It is about how MY attitude went south and how it hurt me... I always advise young walk-ons to keep an 'attitude of gratitude', work hard, and BE patient. Don't do what I did....

The man who most deserves my apology is no longer with us... a person who got an undeserved immature negative response from me ....Alabama equipment manger Willie "Dog" Meadows. I have such fond memories and better understanding of him now... but he became a figure head of selfish frustration and led to a very mild but effective 'campaign of rebellion' in 1984.

My first experience with Mr. Meadows was my first day as a walk-on in 1982.  

We were getting our equipment. 

At the end of a long line was Mr. Meadows... what a character! All I remember was that man was perfect to keep up with equipment- mean as a rattle snake and cheap!


I was the first walk-on in line behind big time recruits: Jon Hand (6'7 280!), Joe Smith, Kevin Welniak, Vernon Wilkerson, Shon Lee, Todd Wilkins, Cliff Thomas, Mike Spencer, Derrick Slaughter (my hs teammate- Banks), Freddie Robinson, Larry Roberts, John Pemberton, Gary Otten, Wes Neighbors, Hoss Johnson, Desmond Holloman, Joe Godwin, David Gilmer, Venson Elder, Chester Bragg, Rodney Jarmon. Behind me in line were great guys and other invited walk-ons.... Lee Clements and George Salem among them- those men are champions to me... even to this day!

We went down the line and got Alabama football gear!

I got a beautiful new helmet, shoulder pads with the tags still on them, and brand new shoes.

Then I got to the end of the line.

Mr. Meadows chirped, "NAME!"
I replied, "Mathews"

"Mathews, Mathews...(looking at his list, turns the page) why you're a WALK-ON! Give me that!" And he took my new stuff and started pulling out older stuff. I laugh about it now... and was okay on that day... but it sowed a small seed of discontentment... even then.

Eventually the story grew into the myth that I got Joe Namath's helmet and Fred Sington's shoes that day.

And every day after that- we went to 'the cage' to get our cloth and  equipment for the workout or practice.

Every single day... it went kind of like this


"Good day, Mr. Meadows!"
"What so damn good about it?" He would snarl.
"Oh, I don't know- just seeing how you're doing today- that's all"
"What are you, a doctor?"

And that's about how it went.

When we would get our cloth for the day, which included raggedy socks that I had to tape to stay up, a badly frayed jock strap (who knew how old it was).... my practice jersey (torn) and pants (with holes) and worn shoes- either cleats, or turf shoes, (or the dreaded black rain turf shoes that weighed 5 lbs each).

Then he would say the now famous line....

"Sign the ball"

There were always 2 or 3 footballs we had to sign as they were bringing our stuff to us. Each one had a LARGE beautiful 'Bear Bryant' signature on them.... and then the players would sign with a pen on the football as well.

I don't want to burst anyone's bubble- but the word in the locker room was that Mr. Meadows signed A LOT of those footballs with Coach Bryant's signature. Every now and then he would tell me whose name to sign as well. I cannot confirm or deny that I signed a football under request as 'Bart Starr'.

A family member got one of those signed footballs one year, and it had my name on it.... but I didn't have the heart to mention that the big signature was in question.

Vicious Cycle.... Trending Down, Down, Down

So.. the PLUMMET happens over time... at the beginning you are thankful to be there, in awe of the athletes and facility, excited to eat meals at Bryant Hall... but slowly, a sense of entitlement begins to creep in... and you begin having DISTORTED thoughts.."why am I not being treated the same? I PAY to be here... these guys are free... the coaches love them... they aren't giving me my chance... I'm not getting my due.(Do you hear all of the 'ME's" creeping in?).

Self absorption leads to discontentment and you start talking to other walk-ons who harbor the same feelings... and before long you have a chorus of selfish malcontents... always viewing life as 'unfair'. 

Looking back, I am SO SAD that I fell into this trap.

We even had a common phrase we used- we called it "getting the shaft".

So here is how the rebellion began... one day after a brutal practice, I was in a very bad mood... I limped into the shower (we had our own scout team locker room and showers) and as I reached for the soap I noticed... it was only a HALF-BAR of soap

That cheap skate, Willie Dog Meadows, was cutting the soap bars in HALF!!!....  I was in a bonafide outrage!

Now, looking back... it was a super smart thing for Mr. Meadows to do... putting whole bars really is wasteful (and now a days we have these liquid dispensers, even more practical). Did I care that the water was hot, the towel was clean, the showers were sanitary? No.... all I could do is stare at that small HALF-BAR of soap and my anger spilled into fury.

And the rebellion began this way- I showed that bar to the other 'shafted ones'...'are we gonna take this?!" NO WAY!

Right above me was a suspended tile ceiling with one of the tiles out creating  square 'hole' in the drop down .. so I just did the impulsive thing... I threw my half piece into the hole and the soap was gone. And soon after, so did every bar!

It was a cathartic moment of anger and revenge... we all tossed them jokers right into the ceiling!

And that started a daily, silent resistance to the man... and soon he was the MAD one... "WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE ARE OUT OF SOAP AGAIN" he screamed after day 4 or 5 of the rebellion.

And the resistance grew... those old socks with holes- torn up and turned in...useless. Torn jock straps, broken shoe laces.... all good for nothing but the trash heap (Funny, we never threw away toilet paper....).

Now here is a bad thing about human nature.... we began to enjoy 'the game'... it felt good to be a gad fly.. something in the DNA of humans that we get electric negative energy and a surge of adrenaline from the unified dissent.

It finally all fell down in a fire brand, come to Jesus meeting... Mr Meadows had us all in the locker room and he was A-N-G-R-Y and we were being jerks.

He must have seen my smirk and called me out in front of the others... " I KNOW you have something to do with this Mathews"... and he added some colorful language to the speech.

And the result?  We went a good long time without any soap... he stopped all of it. And if we left the bars we brought in the locker room, he disposed of them.

Never forget this line- it is true of even appropriate dissent....

"I fought the law... and the law won."

At some point the rebellion died, we got tired of showers with no soap and one day both sides made peace without any formal resolution.

And I am sorry... I WAS WRONG... my attitude was bad, and there were so many better ways to address the issue. In the long run, it cost me because I chose to stop playing football and went to work for the athletic department... but if I had to do it over again... I hope I would correct my attitude, humble myself, be thankful, and get to work....

But there is a bigger analogy at play here.

We can get riled up to fight over an issue... and the group frustration can spill over red hot... WARNING...sometimes... the issue isn't worth the battle or more likely, there is a better way to address it.

Again... there are times there is grievous injustice and we end up with no choice but to be rebels.

But it needs to always be "rebels WITH a just cause" and not foolish 'rebels without a clue"

Just because the energy is there... does not mean it is a wise move.

These are things to ponder and we begin to think through the circumstances and measured actions of Christians if culture ever begins to clamp down on religious liberty... we will need to have great wisdom and leadership in those moments.

And we will also need to understand... civil disobedience comes with consequences. The sober reality is that sometimes there are no other options!

Let's keep exploring and praying... be cheerful! God can be glorified even through mistakes.... and we can grow from them as well.




Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Warrior Monks? Deliberating the Complicated Days of Future American Dissidents

 

(The months of January and February, I am dedicating my personal study to current and historical views concerning the conflict of kingdoms that Christians wrestle with at all times, but seem to be crystalizing in trend of current culture. Any one post can lead to mis-understanding and a mis-application. Also, there are unanswerable questions because much of this is applied through principles based on personal situations where there are often multiple responses allowed. My main goal is to flesh this out personally, and possibly inspire others to wrestle and prepare for future situations)


The picture that accompanies this blog is sure to raise eyebrows... and the topic for the next 2 months will no doubt raise concerns... but no anxiety is needed, nor harm intended.

All I am doing is working through a 'thought experiment' to explore if, when, what , or how a christian should act if the cultural circumstances required actions that could be construed as 'dissident' in nature.

The Knights Templar have a controversial and mysterious history, a track record of both service and sin, and they still draw interest to this day. The history of the group shows the messy, open to criticism, and often contradictory actions of Christians who find themselves facing assertive attacks of ungodly forces.

The Knights had a noble and humble beginning.... their main task was to protect pilgrims who were traveling lawless roads to the Holy Land. Their NAME comes from their home fortress of operations- the crumbling remains of Solomon's temple. They were so successful as virtuous protectors, that their fame and financial prosperity grew as well as their numbers.

The financial growth came from the installation of the first international banking system where pilgrims used 'credit' from deposits in Europe which were honored in the middle east and helped keep travelers from having large sums of money on them at any one time.

This growth kept the Templars a powerful force of protection for roughly a 200 year period. But sadly, human greed combined with the authority to wield a sword had its predictable corrupting influence. Strange stories began to emerge about their mysterious rituals and other abuses and the church finally wrote edicts of indictment in discontinuing the order in the early 14th century. There are still members of  a namesake order today, committed to charity and ministry- but the 'power' to engage in battles is gone for good and for good reason!

SO it begs the question... can there be a legitimate constitution of a religious order that can be trusted as 'a warrior monk'?

The Bible is full of warriors who are extolled for their actions. But we also have the admonition of Christ to 'turn the other cheek' in the Sermon on the Mount. Peter presses hard on the issue of 'submission' ... even 'honoring the Emperor' in his letters- yet, at the same time, both Peter and John are quoted in Acts as answering the charge to quit preaching-Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.Acts 4:19–20.

Finally, there is a splintered theology in the church related to pacifism during times of war. Pacifism has been a predominant view in church history yet, there is also HARSH criticism toward church leaders for not facing down fascism as it grew in Germany in the 20th century. A part of Theodicy is the never ending debate of whether there is such a thing as a 'just war'.

I don't anticipate solving these issues in a blog.... but as sure as American Colonists fell on opposite sides of the reasons and timing of the Declaration of Independence, there will always be opposing views on whether it is right to stand by or rise up in the face of persecution or injustice. 

Could it be by design? Is it possible that God allows authentic response to individual events that spreads His followers into many corners of ministry? I don't know... "The secret things belong to Him" Deut. 29:29.

Ever since the first government ordered lockdowns of 2020, I have been re- looking at my personal response to these things. When do we obey and when do we choose to practice civil disobedience?  I laugh because I am labeled  a "protest'ant" - we have been protesting for over 500 years!

And because these are religious questions- questions of eternity- these are matters than men are subject to war over...  the more weight that lies in the balance...the harder we tend to fight!

I have yet to see a situation that justifies a violent or destructive action unless it is a necessary self defense. We should never accept violence or destruction as a legitimate right of protest. I'm a pretty passive man, don't be surprised by my response to a threat to my wife of children!

And I think we rush too quickly to 'nuclear options' within conflict. And Lord help us, because it seems like no one chooses to forgive anymore these days... "You jump on my logo... then by golly I will jump on yours!"

Typical of my approach, I am simultaneously listening to 3 podcasts and reading two books on these topics, and browsing the net to see where the trail may lead. There is a lot of information regarding the problems of our growing intolerant/ totalitarian prone cancel culture.... but not many valuable solutions.

So far, the most hopeful posts, writings have come from non-conservatives who are alarmed by the leftists and the threat it poses to traditional liberalism.

Personally, I have to begin where I believe I have made some mistakes and given into some distorted/ faulty thinking myself.

So here are the things I am hoping to express with personal clarity and a spirit of hope:

1) No need to panic- the Book of Revelation especially has a tone of encouragement and victory. Until God brings down the curtain of history, we must be willing to faithfully work and serve. And no need to rush into this... it will happen when it needs to.

2) We can be faithful to the Lord's commands and become effective dissidents at the same- we don't have to sit back and take it over and over. There is a strategy and purpose to what the Lord expects of us... and it always is about recognizing that people are not our enemies- we want them to come to know Christ. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. This will take a good bit of writing to explain.

3) We have to be willing to call out our own sin and speak out against the elements of our own political persuasions particularly when they trend toward the 'lunatic fringe' of an ideology.

4) We have to make every effort to win and warn our young people. We can’t shy away from telling our children the truth for fear they will be punished. We have to sit them down, be honest, and teach them how to be wise with their treasure trove of gospel truth. There will be a day they may have to stand- but let us take the early blows so they can do it even better than we as they watch us make our best efforts to resist.

5) We can't lose our gentleness and respect... even if the 'other side' chooses not to. This may be the tallest task of all!

6) We can't wait to decide our future actions later- we need to begin thinking through- small group cells, wise and prudent communication strategies, financial plans if the state/elites decide to shut down economic participation in the system, a willingness to help one another as possible persecution begins.

7) We can't withdraw from the political process, we need to seek better and bolder candidates in both parties who will defend religious liberty and who still hold an adherence to the constitution.

8) We can't be afraid of the cancel culture... in the end, these avatars are anonymous bullies and we need to expect criticism and mockery at many times and in many ways.

9) We have to keep our eyes on China. Unfortunately, we have elites in our republic who idolize their wealth, power, and order. And some of those are just in love with their gifts... that come at a cost they can't see yet.

10) I have no reason to do anything right now but pray for the President, wish him well, and pray for our leaders to lead us to peace and unity... all of them!

To close this post, I fully expect the next 5-10 years is going to showcase the most intense attacks to Christian institutions in the history of our republic. And we will need to be prepared to respond in a wise and responsible way. 

Individual Christians will likely face the increase of a myriad of difficult trials that could include loss of liberty, loss of jobs, the loss of tax exempt benefits, shaming and shunning, and a propaganda campaign to demoralize and deceive others.

We know the battleground areas- no need to list them. 

This isn't a 100% take it to the bank prediction, but to not plan for that now would be a dis-service. We need to be 'Josephs' stocking grain BEFORE the famine and before the rise of Pharos who know us not. 

So be patient with me- I need to write these in small bits--- and I am still sorting through it myself. But I am not afraid, nor am I retreating. The worst persecution right now is getting blasted on social media and possibly 'banned from twitter'- big deal. But learning how to respond positively and faithfully to those salvos, will help us in the long run respond well when it gets serious.


I close this writing with a very hopeful facebook post, that my wife sent me. I'm sorry I don't know who wrote it.



To be continued......








Thursday, January 07, 2021

The Rock Cross Club

 

There is a 'CLUB'  that has grown within my years of ministry that symbolizes, to me, what Christians may be called to do at some point in the future. I believe it is good to mentally rehearse and prepare for this potential reality now.... WITH HOPE!

The Story of the "Rock Cross Club"

Year ago, I was given a box of rocks with crosses by Mr. Roy Gilbert, Sr. They were smooth, had a great shape, with crosses painted on them in different colors. They sat on my desk for some time. I used one as a paper weight and would carry one in my pocket from time to time. 

A few months after that is when 'the club' started.

I was the high school Dean of Students, but was asked to come and work a discipline issue in the junior high because the principal was off campus at the time.

I walked into his office, only to find a 7th grade boy shaken up to the point of tears. To say he had had a miserable day is quite an understatement... it was one of those days that make the middle school experience very difficult.

My heart breaks when I remember these types of stories and they often follow a consistent narrative. It often isn't one bad bully, it normally is a day where it is 'torture by 100 ant bites'. In an effort to be cute, or to impress others, or just being plain evil... this kid was made fun of for the sheer sake of entertainment.

This post is NOT about the difficult steps and strategies that have to be done to protect the target and bring consequences to the persecutors. Sometimes, you can actually make the situation worse! But I also can't have a kid on my campus who dreads coming to school every day! Over the years, I had some great successes in some of those kinds of cases and some epic failures as well. Often, it feels like the pressure that someone on a bomb squad must feel as he diagnoses which wire to cut!

But this particular story went really well. After a lot of listening about what happened that day, I happened to notice I had that rock in my pocket. I pulled it out and went through a speech that I repeated for almost 8 years in a number of different situations.

"Andy ( Joe, Sam, Billy), I wish I could snap my fingers and make this all go away right now. But this is going to take some time and we will need to pray for wisdom on how to walk through this.

I am going to give you something.... but understand...this is NOT a good luck charm, and there is nothing magical about this, but it may help remind you of how we are working through this."

At that point,  I handed him the rock.

"Maybe this symbol will help you as it helps me. The rock is strength.... and the Bible says that Jesus is a rock that we can build our lives on. And when the storms come, our house will not fall. And of course, the cross is such an important symbol and message. It points to the pain Jesus experienced, as well as proof that He loves us. 

Keep this rock n your pocket, and when things get hard, hold that rock, pray, and remember that you can make it! I encourage you to show it to your parents, but you don't have to respond to anyone."

And then we would talk about a two fold strategy.... things I could do to help him be stronger and then things I needed to do to put the bullies on notice in a way that protects the target from reprisals. (And we are always appealing to the by-standers to take up the cause and protect the vulnerable through education, conversations, etc). Again, this is such an impossible task.... complex... and this is a major reason why we pray. (This is a very 'simple' recount of often complex issues where we have to get counseling help and others as well!)

Even though this kid was in the Jr. High, I followed up with his parents and checked in with him every few days. Again, I am leaving a lot out, but the investigative/corrective work is rather exhausting and fraught with landmines!

To my amazement, that little rock ended up being a huge part of the growth process!

He would walk by me from time to time and show me that rock. I nodded and carried on.

Over time, I would utilize this technique in some different situations. And it almost always went that same way. I ended up buying boxes of replacements from time to time.

About 6 years later... it all came full circle.

I was called down to the office and it was a major deja vu ! A 7th grader was having a very bad day!

And the very first kid I have ever given a rock to was now a senior... and was nothing like the little 7th grader from years before. He was well liked, an successful athlete, student... and had a great heart to help people.

So I called him down to the office and asked if he would help me.

And I sat back and watched the senior give the little speech, 'nothing magical, not a good luck charm' and he pulled his rock out... still in his pocket... and it had ALL of the paint rubbed off of it, though the carved cross was still prominent.

"But this has sure helped me stay steady in tough times!"

I'm a pretty stoic person, but was wiping tears away as the kid took his rock... and we began to pray about what we needed to do to make it through.

I soon realized the 'club' was a fraternity of brothers who have learned to stay steady' love, forgive, and serve... there a lot of members out there!

A week or so later, this senior and I made a 'thank-you' video and sent it to Mr. Gilbert. That small gift turned into a real ministry and reminds me of an important passage.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, [4] who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. [5] For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. [6] If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. [7] Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3–7 ESV)

So how does this potentially apply to us?

Human nature, the history of God's people, current trends in a 'woke' cancel oriented culture could be signals of a soft totalitarianism to people of faith... especially Christians.

Just as it was convenient for Nero to cast blame regarding the fires in Rome... we must not be surprised if such charges and actions are utilized to suppress religious liberty.

In times of persecution, even so called 'soft' totalitarianism, there will be a need to, figuratively, 'join the Rock Cross club' as we hold on to the rock and stand firm in the storm.

Our family 'cells' will have to bond together, and we must get in the habit of joining forces with others that may see it a little differently than we do... but can work to be mutual protectors of religious liberty.

Our local churches must be havens of love, encouragement, and service.

We have to hold fast to faith, hope, and love.

This is what I am going to explore quite frequently in my next few blog posts....

A final note- this Christmas break I found a rather LARGE number of podcasts that were run by young, intelligent, highly credentialed young people who were articulating a hopeful message... I do believe there is a generation who want to save our republic and reject the identity politics approach to public  discourse and policy.

Two such podcasts were from self described 'liberals' who were quite bold in their concerns about the radical left. 

I want to be a part of the solution.... not a part of the problem.  

Let's keep praying and not become hand ringers and doomsday prophets.

Christ is still the Prince of Peace... and His love and forgiveness can work miracles.

He still calms the storms and settles the seas!


More to come!




Monday, January 04, 2021

Rediscovering Epistemology: Why We Are in Trouble and How Critical Theory (Yikes) Actually Helps


Inside the hurricane frenzy and tidal waves of internet information, an eye of time stands still, begging for men of modernity to find patience, protocols, and anchors of establishing truth.

The current rush to judgment and misuse and misunderstanding of 'science' has created storms of controversy and bends toward potential abuse via elite power players in our midst.

As theologians and sociologists grapple with ideas like 'worldview' and debating whether there are 'systematic sins', we have bad actors on multiple sides masquerading a false liberation message and laying the foundation of fear and cynicism.

If we don't find some common ground soon, grandchildren will lay cloaks of collaboration at the feet of totalitarians as they forcibly send the grandparents to ruins and tombs. Yes, overly dramatic.... but we can't keep stalling!

I have been taking time to read (and listen to podcasts) about current analysis of critical theories and it's ultimate application to critical race theory.

As any contemporary movement in history, it is hard to summarize and easy to patronize. In fact. critical theory is too broad a term and has roots going back to the late 1930's. And I have to be really careful in alluding to the term, because the original concepts quickly bent toward Marxist ideologies.

The church doesn't have a great track record in staying up to date and current in the marketplace of ideas. We have been absent in intellectual debates for too long. The "Just Give Me Jesus" cells are losing young people in the millions... we have to be willing to love, serve, and die for what we believe.

And I am pointing three fingers back at myself when I say this... the older I get, the more I tend to say 'to heck with it all' and take my ball and go home to escape in a world that Big Tech has crafted for me to stay isolated, fat, dumb, and happy.

In the foul dust of failure though, there are always heroes. Men and women who have the courage to listen, reflect, and then actually adopt an authoritative response to the issue of the day.

One of my favorite heroes ( of many, including Wilberforce ) is Dr. Charles Hodge, president of Princeton Seminary from 1851- 1878. Darwin published "Origin of the Species" in 1859.

Hodge did not shy away from a scholarly reflection of the thesis and reported that they received it "with great interest".

And they took TIME to read it, discuss it.....

Finally, in 1862, Princeton was ready to speak. Charles Hodge noted Darwin’s own admissions: “his frank admission of the difficulties of the theory and in the absurdity of its conclusion”.

Hodge’s main problem with Darwinism was its commitment to random chance and not directed by God.

According to Hodge, the fatal flaw of Darwinism is the denial of design in nature. “If you deny design, you in effect deny God. Darwin says he believes in a creator, but if the creator, billions of eons ago, called a germ in existence and abandoned its development to chance has pretty much consigned himself to non-existence. So what is Darwinism? It is Atheism.

Hodge rejected Darwin’s views, with respect.

And regardless of what is pressured today, there are many 'scientists' who appreciate Darwin's observation of sleight successive changes in living things but reject that it can be extrapolated to explain the origin and diversity of all life on the planet.... though most of them don't feel free to express that view without retribution.

And there are MANY more scientists who hold to that belief... though Neo-Darwinism is far removed and evolved from Darwin's original work.

In all of this debate... what are we losing? We are actually losing civil debate. It gets worse, we are losing debate. And even more absent in this dilemma is the loss of protocols for establishing 'truth'... 

We think we are so sophisticated with smart phones and instant information. Who needs to research? Actually who needs to even be able to read? Much less write?

How can you persuade in 280 characters? Why try if you are only going to be shouted down, doxed, and cancelled?

In 2021, we have to demand better. We have to demand the right to speak, the right to be heard, the right to disagree, and the right to be wrong. And though it is MESSY, we have to find common ground where we can. We have to learn to deal in a civil manner out of a respect for humanity. Look, I'm willing to step on toes both ways. 

On Sunday,  democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, (D-Mo)., altered the traditional ending of "amen" by saying "Amen and awoman" as he delivered the opening prayer for the 117th Congress on Sunday. The rage and outrage exploding in social media from that moment shows the problem is actually on MANY sides. Rep. Cleaver has every right to pray. And while I disagree with the theology of such 'prayer' (mostly because it was voiced to Brahma, and different gods and faiths)... it should not cause rage. It is a freedom of expression and a freedom of religion which must be allowed in our republic even while I loudly proclaim that salvation is found through Christ alone.

We Are in a Losing Fight and Downward Spiral

Before I give ANYONE a pass... let me give one more example of the 'problem before I hint at some solutions.

The global arena of ancient manuscript experts were all buzzing in 2012, as word got out of a 'dramatic' discovery that was going to be revealed in Rome. What ensued has been a long and torturous ride of controversy known as the 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife'.

I am borrowing from the history channel to give a quick backstory of the event.

In September 2012, Harvard University divinity professor Karen L. King, a distinguished scholar of early Christianity, shocked an academic audience at the International Congress of Coptic Studies by detailing an Egyptian papyrus fragment that contained the first-known explicit reference to Jesus being married. The fourth of the eight incomplete lines of Coptic script written on the tiny papyrus scrap—only the size of a business card—contains the words “Jesus said to them, “My wife,” followed in the next line by “she is able to be my disciple.” King stressed that the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” could not be taken as evidence that the historical Jesus ever had a wife—just as no historical proof exists to support claims that he never wed—but she was confident that the artifact was authentic after initial examinations by two expert papyrologists indicated it was ancient. (source: History Channel.com)

Here is where the maze parallels the problem. Though there was almost IMMEDIATE pushback by scholars within mere hours of the announcement... good old Main Stream Media (MSM) ran with it and even though there are layers upon layers upon layers of demonstrable evidence that the manuscript is a forgery, you still have people who say "likely a forgery" and a rather large number of people who use the text as documented fact. One writer said quite candidly, "why should we consult the experts when we have so many good journalists on the case?"! The vast majority of experts knew it had problems within 24 hours, but it took almost 6 years for the main stream media to change their tune.

So what is our dilemma and is there a way out?

Our main dilemma is that we have lost the art of allowing TIME to press into matters and work to a consensus with open minds. Along with that is the lost virtue of self-suspicion. And we are too trusting of our current streams of information- almost all of it is poor at best and manipulative at worst. 

No wonder most young people tend to think there is no real truth or no meta-narrative.... they have to 'troll' through the garbage every day.

This has never been easy. Human predisposition is powerful. Once you are ‘settled’, almost nothing will change your mind. That is why saying “I am wrong” is a type of miracle and "I might be wrong" maybe even more so. We tend to cling to facts that support and disregard or twist info that challenges. We need prayer and support to really ‘change’.

Sadly, the appeal to authority today is a vote. If 51% agree that something is true, well then, it is true. We have to demand more.... votes today will be bullets tomorrow unless we find a better solution to establish truth.
 
So here comes an interesting 'minister' in this issue... critical theory. Now, before you blow a gasket.. I have issues with MOST of the application by elite bullies in the marketplace, but we have to celebrate an adversary to the status quo of academic pride and blind loyalty to 'science and technology' as a savior.

At the heart of critical theory is 'criticizing' the epistemology of modernity, especially a good number of the practices and allegiances adopted from the Enlightenment. Critical theory is not a direct challenge to religion... it is a more a direct challenge to secular power structures.

Critical theory challenges the rules of truth, observation, and investigation that are rarely open to skepticism.

It is especially skeptical that the only source of truth is 'empirical scientific analysis'.

I have been saying for a long time that honest science has a self correcting mechanism that we should never be afraid of.

But do we have 'honest' science anymore? One that is uncorrupted by voluminous grants and pre-conceived outcomes... no matter what. When someone is picking winners and losers, and the prize is counted in billions, are we to believe the numbers aren't fudged?

Einstein threw in a variable to satisfy the stagnant universe crowd only to call it later, 'my biggest blunder".

Critical theory says 'NO" - there is also truth that cannot be measured in a test tube. And it is a lost truth... one that has to be rediscovered. It is the part of the universe that asks the questions that 'empirical science' doesn't put in its equations. 

Science says, "We can" but the lost truth says, "But should we?" and demands a "why".

Christians MUST not shrink back from this debate. We must be present, we must be bold, we must be civil, and we must be honest.

And here is the sad reality.... we are likely to be doxed and sent to 'gulags' anyway.

Now before I sound like a Debbie Downer... I write all of this with hope. 

History tells us where we are headed.... Dr. Francis Schaefer was writing this as early as 1948.

The normal course of Christian history is that gospel proclamation,  biblical literacy,  and authentic Christian presence liberates people, births prosperity, and then "the children eat the mother". It is no different in the Old Testament as God's people cycled through repentance, faith, obedience, blessing, idolatry, and judgement again and again.

In Schaefer's language God's people will choose peace and affluence even when it means giving up liberty to the control of elites.

In  Scriptural application... the consequences of sin are contained in the commission of sin.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. [8] For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. [9] And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:7–9 ESV)

I am committing to an attempt in 2021 to cry out for a new approach to epistemology... and likely discovering it no different than John Frame or Blaise Pascal. We have to introduce this to our children. We have to teach them how to argue for truth.

And we may have to show we are willing to die for it.

Alas, if we do this right... we will no doubt encounter friendly fire. No one shoots Christians as good as Christians.

BUT- If the apostles testified to the truth with their blood, surely I am willing to be misunderstood, ridiculed.

Maybe even kicked off of twitter.......

More details to come..... stay tuned! 


Monday, December 28, 2020

2020 Discoveries- Wrongs and 'Rights'

The last post of 2020! And the topic is easily anticipated....'change and a new year'.

This post will not change the world… it is even less likely to change someone’s mind. It may rile up readers, both positively and negatively… red meat to the masses... but that is not my goal. 

This post is not social criticism…though there is plenty to criticize! “(The main human agent/actor) in history is not individual genius, but rather the network…. Though a revolutionary idea might emerge from the masses… it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites.” (James Davison Hunter).


Rather, this post is to confess that I have in MANY ways been wrong on some things… I have strayed away from a well worn path and a steady north star. Thankfully, God is always gracious to pick me up, dust me off, admonish me in love, and steady my steps in a new direction.


Over the next two months, I am wanting to ‘flesh out’ where I have been, what changes I intend to make, and begin to carry out what I have been called to do over the next stage of my life.


Now don't panic... I expect no changes in my job or other relationships- on the outside, these endeavors may even seem invisible! The Lord changes things from the inside out.


Rather, it is like Janie Buck, (wife of the saint, Dr. Bill Buck, who just went home to be with Jesus https://obits.al.com/obituaries/birmingham/obituary.aspx?n=william-p-buck&pid=197352481&fhid=6039) who said when the gospel of Christ took hold of her family- "I have gone and gotten a new husband, and I didn't even have to get a divorce!"


2020 was a BEAR…. And even in this last week, HE swipes his claws and tears at the very fabric of our lives…. My prayer list of hurting and critical friends has never been longer! Covid has been an unprecedented attack and the toll is unmeasurable… including the constant criticism of people and institutions who are trying to do the best they can based on mixed, changing, and confusing information.


But Covid has also revealed how unhealthy we are as a culture- both figuratively and literally. We are not healthy physically, mentally, or spiritually!


My wife and I are doing some reading that we will be discussing and I have been inspired in this process by the thoughts of Os Guinness, Dr. Francis Schaefer, Johnny Cash, and a few friends and podcasts during this Christmas break.


So to tip my hand a little bit- here are some of the ‘personal declarations’ I have been sorting through… nothing to dig in on yet… but food for thought and interaction!


This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. [2] Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. [3] But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. [4] For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. [5] Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:1–5 ESV)


Personal Declarations - Preparing for 2021


I believe in the God of the Bible- He doesn’t need me to defend Him.

I will never cease to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

Truth is what God says- though we don't understand it at times, forget it, and often use it as a weapon and not a balm.

As a sinful human, I fail to live up to my ideals- but it does not stain the truth of Christ.

My family is the greatest cell of opposition to this current ‘cancel culture’… it is THE source of true fellowship and encouragement.

The  invisible Church of Christ is undefeated- it is the ongoing, global, and VERY effective ministry of the body of Jesus.

I need to faithfully, openly attend and support my local, visible church.

I need to organize or attend a small group for prayer, study, and fellowship.

I need to commit to a life of spiritual disciplines- including worship, prayer, fasting, and daily study of the Bible. I need to honor Christ with my body and endeavor to live a healthy lifestyle.

I am too busy living under the tyranny of the urgent... I have to be better at saying NO... it can wait.

I honor no man or institution as an ‘elite’.

I defend individual rights, even if I don’t agree with that person.

I defend religious liberty, even for groups that I don’t agree with.

I defend free speech, even for speech that I don’t agree with.

I defend law and order, and I will always choose civil disobedience as a last option.

I refuse to characterize, pre- judge, or primarily identify any person based on their color, creed, gender, or social standing.

I have every right to speak out against the rewriting of history and the re-invention of language, which often parallels the coerced values of any particular elitist group or institution.

I refuse to live in fear of the vindictive rants or potential doxing of power hungry bullies.

While I do participate in social media, I realize it is a system based on surveillance technology, where the rules of what I say and who I read is censored to algorithms designed to market me as a consumer… which leads to a distortion of reality.

I have great skepticism in ALL forms of the current mainstream media (MSM). I will take EVERYTHING they report with ‘a grain of salt’.

While I will always live as an honorable citizen, I do not trust my government. My kingdom is not of this world.

There are NO political solutions to the real problems of mankind.

Democracies are better than Socialist states…. But all forms of governments have issues.

I have significant issues with many of today’s virtue signals including ‘wokeness’, ‘social justice’, ‘diversity and inclusion’ or labeling people with the suffix  “phobe”.

I will perform no action or subscribe to a creed to simply aleve guilt or be accepted by any particular group of people.

If I am persecuted or have to suffer for Christ… I will seek to do it joyfully, for the glory of God.

I need to be prepared for that sooner, rather than later.

None of this steals my joy, peace, hope, or love.

I need to be a better servant of others!


This is the essence of my life as a man.


If you are interested in exploring some of this with me in 2021... feel free to email me: jayopsis@gmail.com


Alexander Solzhenitsyn “Live NOT by Lies”

Living a lie is accepting without protest all the falsehoods and propaganda that the state or any group of elites compel me to affirm. 


"The ordinary man may not be able to overturn a kingdom of lies, but he can at least say that he is not going to be a loyal subject."