Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I have no more mercy for them

Farm manager drinks weed killer after RM90,000 gaming loss

Source: The Star
Thursday June 26, 2008

TANJUNG SEPAT: He said he had given up betting on football but the lure of Euro 2008 proved too much for Chuang Toh Huat. In the end, he paid for his love of betting with his life. Some 12 hours after the Spain versus Italy quarterfinal match, he was found in a semi-conscious state after drinking weed killer.

“I have given more than RM1mil to pay off his debts and he promised he wouldn't do it again,” said his father Hock Meng, 56, yesterday when met at his house in Taman Pelangi.

Bereft family: Lim Siew Hong weeping in front of a photograph of her husband Toh Huat as her four young children look on at their home in Taman Pelangi, Tanjung Sepat yesterday.

Toh Huat died at 7.30am on Tuesday at the Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital in Klang. His family believes he ran up a debt of RM90,000 after failed bets during the Euro 2008 championship.

“Lately, with the Euro 2008 in full swing, he went back to his bad habit without us realising it,” said Hock Meng.

He said his son got hooked on football betting three years ago when a man, whom he claimed was a bookie, approached Toh Huat.

Hock Meng added he had taken loans and sold pigs from his farm to pay off his son’s debts.

The 31-year-old Toh Huat, a manager at his father’s pig farm, was found by his younger brother at about 5.30pm on Monday.

While Toh Huat was fighting for his life at the hospital, the family received three telephone calls from a man demanding RM90,000.

Hock Meng urged the authorities to protect the people, especially those in rural areas, from becoming victims of betting syndicates.

He said he wanted to make public his son’s suicide for it to be a lesson to others.

Toh Huat’s mother Gan San Moy, 54, said she could not believe that her son, who was a father of four, would leave his family without saying goodbye.

“He called me after drinking the weed killer. He said somebody was after him because of bets he had placed. He told me he could not stand the harassment anymore and asked me to take care of myself and his family,” she said in between sobs.

In Kuala Lumpur, MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Michael Chong said cases of people who owed money to loan sharks got worse during the football season, adding they were “foolish people” driven by greed.

“People go crazy with their football betting and gambling and borrow even more money from the Ah Long.

“They keep coming to me for help, and I try to help them, but sometimes I end up getting myself in trouble with the Ah Long instead. I have no more mercy for them,” he told newsmen.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases

This was written by an 8-year-old named Danny Dutton, who lives in Chula Vista, CA. He wrote it for his third grade homework assignment, to 'explain God.' I wonder if any of us could have done as well?

[ Someone published it, I guess miracles do happen ! ... ]

'One of God's main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn't make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn't have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.'

'God's second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn't have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.'

'God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn't go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad's head asking for something they said you couldn't have.'

'Atheists are people who don't believe in God. I don't think there are any in Chula Vista. At least there aren't any who come to our church.'

'Jesus is God's Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn't want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn't know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.'

'His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn't have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.'

'You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.'

'You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there's anybody you want to make happy, it's God!

Don't skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn't come out at the beach until noon anyway.'

'If you don't believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can't go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He's around you when you're scared, in the dark or when you can't swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.'

' shouldn't just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.

And...that's why I believe in God.'

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Questions about Holy Spirit etiquette

-by J. Lee Grady (Charisma).

Lakeland Revival leader Todd Bentley’s unusual prayer methods
have triggered questions about Holy Spirit etiquette. For weeks the
blogosphere has been sizzling with comments, pro and con, about
the unusual ministry style of Todd Bentley, the leader of the
Lakeland Revival in Florida. Thousands of people have watched the
tattooed evangelist shout “Bam! Bam!” as he prays for the sick and
interviews those who say they were instantly healed.

Nobody could ever accuse Bentley of lacking zeal. And he always
gives Jesus the credit for the healings he announces on God TV
every night. But he has come under fire because of video clips
from a sermon in which he says the Holy Spirit told him to use
violent means to heal people.

The sermon, preached in Lakeland and posted on YouTube,
features Bentley demonstrating how he (1) banged a woman’s
crippled legs “like a baseball bat” on a stage; (2) tackled, mounted
and choked a man to free him from a demon; (3) shoved a Chinese
man to the ground to pray for him (causing the man to lose a tooth);
(4) kicked an older woman in the face with his biker boot to heal
her; and (5) “leg-dropped” a pastor—a professional wrestling tactic,
popularized by Hulk Hogan, in which the aggressor jumps in the
air and lands on his opponent with one leg outstretched.

When we asked Bentley about his unorthodox methods, he
assured Charisma that none of the people were hurt and that
many were healed. He also explained that British evangelist Smith
Wigglesworth, a legend in the hall of fame of Pentecostal
preachers, used similar methods.

So if Wigglesworth healed a man by punching him in the stomach,
and Bentley sees similar results by using techniques borrowed
from the World Wrestling Entertainment, does that mean we
should teach all altar workers to become more aggressive?

I know that people have been healed in the meetings in Lakeland. I
know of a woman from South Carolina who was healed of cystic
fibrosis while sitting in one of Bentley’s services. (She was never
touched by anyone.) I also know a man from California who was
healed of sleep apnea while watching the Lakeland revival on
television. Jesus is most definitely still in the healing business.

I also know that Bentley is not performing Hulk Hogan stunts from
the stage in Lakeland every night. But because his comments
about violent prayer have been so widely broadcast, we need to
call a timeout and make it clear that hitting people is wrong, period.
Bentley’s teaching on unorthodox prayer methods should include a
disclaimer: “DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.” Here are three reasons why:

1. The Holy Spirit is gentle. Jesus boldly drove the moneychangers
out of the temple with a whip. But when He prayed for sick people,
there is no record of Him head-banging or leg-dropping anyone. He
rebuked evil spirits authoritatively, but He never hit, slapped,
choked, mounted or kicked a person. He was meek, which means
He knew how to control His strength, and He never threw His
weight around.

When He commissioned His followers to heal the sick, Jesus told
them to “lay” hands on them (Mark 16:18). Since gentleness is
part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (along with kindness—see Gal.
5:22-23), any ministry we do should be tempered with mercy and

2. If we minister in the flesh, we will reap flesh. Several years ago I
was standing near the stage in a large meeting when a visiting
evangelist said he wanted to pray for all the ministers in the room.
Immediately some ushers yanked me up to the platform and the
man of God raced over to “pray” for me. Before I knew it, I was
assaulted in the name of the Lord.

Whack! The guy hit me so hard that I fell down and held my face in
my hands to hide my grimace. The skin on my neck was stinging.
When I finally went back to my seat, a friend ran over to
congratulate me, saying, “Wow, I saw you go down under the
power!” I had to grit my teeth and ask the Lord to help me forgive
the preacher who inflicted pain instead of a holy impartation.

Why do we think that more bodies on the floor equals “more
anointing”—especially when the evangelist shoves people to the
ground or slaps them silly? To build a ministry on such foolish
theatrics is to trust in the arm of the flesh.

3. Somebody’s going to get hurt. We reported last week that a
Tennessee man sued his charismatic church because its pastoral
staff did not provide the proper “catchers” when he fell down during
a prayer meeting last year. Matthew Lincoln of Knoxville said he
struck the hard floor of the sanctuary with his head and aggravated
a disc problem in his back, resulting in the need for surgery.

I don’t know the specifics of the situation in Knoxville, Tenn., and
it may be that this church has done everything possible to provide
a caring atmosphere in their meetings. Plus, the man suing the
church does not say anyone hit him or knocked him over. But
serious accidents are bound to happen if we don’t stress the
importance of ministering with gentleness and wisdom.

In our zany charismatic world we often let our zeal run wild. I’ve
been in services in which all kinds of injuries happened. Once I
watched a 300-pound man fall on a frail woman. I’ve seen heads
hit metal chairs. I’ve seen evangelists step on people’s arms and
legs. We may say the Holy Spirit is moving, but—more often than
we want to admit—our chaos may be a sign of our immaturity.

Please understand me. I desperately want the power of God to
invade our churches. I’ve been in meetings in which the Lord’s
glory was so thick that no one could stand up. I have felt the
weight of His presence fall like a blanket on a congregation. And I
remember falling to the floor when I got within four feet of a humble
Indian preacher who barely touched people on the forehead when
he prayed for them.

We don’t have to force things to happen. God’s power is real. May
we never settle for a man-made imitation.

~J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Your love for Jesus changes the Bible from a rulebook to a love letter

Posted on Mar 18, 2008

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--A recent article in The New York Times discussed the difficulty facing some American-born Jews, now living in Israel, to prove the authenticity of their heritage. One young woman went with her fiancé to the Tel Aviv Rabbinate to register to marry. This governmental court asked her to prove she was Jewish.

If a court of law asked you to prove you were a Christian, how would you do it?

Some might answer, "I'm a member of a church." The court could rightly ask, "How difficult is it for a non-Christian to join a church?"

There are some churches so anxious for someone to join that after a "three minute drill" during the invitation, a person can be welcomed into full fellowship. They are voted in and everything!

If being a member of a church proves you are a Christian, then why are so few church members choosing to worship Christ regularly?

Others appearing before the court might answer, "I've been baptized." Really? If you've been around a Christian church for any length of time, you can pick up enough church lingo to answer the questions correctly. Is baptism proof of Christianity or merely proof you got wet? Unless one lives in a non-Christian culture, baptism can become a rite of passage instead of a radical declaration of a commitment to Christ.

Then there's the genetic answer, "My parents were Christians so I must be one." The Bible says you become a Christian through personal acceptance of the Gospel, not by your parents' acceptance of the Gospel.

So where is the proof? How could I prove to a court that I am a Christian? The Bible's criteria of proof are your love for God and your love for others.

Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commands." A person once challenged Jesus to identify the greatest commandment. Jesus answered in summary fashion by saying love God and neighbor.

The proof to the world of your Christianity is your unwavering love for God. Despite circumstances or trials, you love and trust God. When you don't see the "big picture," you trust God is guiding you to the glimmer of light at the end of an immense tunnel.

Your love for Jesus changes the Bible from a rulebook to a love letter. It turns worship from a noun into a verb, a day into a week.

When you surrender your life to Jesus, you begin to love others. You see the needs of others as more than physical and emotional, but spiritual. Then your love constrains you to meet that need.

An authentic walk with Christ allows you to look deep inside, to the Jesus in other people. Jesus said, "When you see someone hungry, thirsty or in need of clothes and you take care of the need, you take care of me."

If a court ever called on you to prove the authenticity of your faith, I think you should point the judge to the faithful hymn that says, "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."

Keith Manuel is an evangelism associate on the Louisiana Baptist Convention's evangelism & church growth team.

Plan to use the discovery to promote tourism

Archaeologists unearth 'world's first church'

Posted: Wednesday, June 11, 2008, 8:31 (BST)

Archaeologists have unearthed in Jordan what they believe to be the world’s first church, according to a report on Monday.

"We have uncovered what we believe to be the first church in the world, dating from 33 AD to 70 AD," Abdul Qader al-Hussan, the head of Jordan's Rihab Center for Archaeological Studies, was quoted by The Jordan Times as saying.

He added that the discovery was “amazing”.

The nearly 2,000-year-old church was discovered underneath Saint Georgeous Church in Rihab, Mafraq, in northern Jordan near the Syrian border. St Georgeous dates back to 230 AD, and is considered the oldest “proper” church in the world.

Hussan said his team has evidence to believe “this church sheltered the early Christians – the 70 disciples of Jesus Christ”.

These 70 early Christians are said to have fled persecution in Jerusalem, particularly to Rihab, and founded churches in northern Jordan. Historical sources, according to Hussan, suggest the 70 Christians lived and practiced their faith in the underground church and only left when Christianity was embraced by Roman rulers.

“It was then when St Georgeous was built,” said Hussan noted.

The underground church has been described as a cave with several stone seats believed to have been for the clergy and a circular shaped area, thought to be the apse – an area which usually contains the altar.

“A wall with an entrance is the only partition separating the altar from the living area,” Hussan reported.

There is also a deep tunnel in the cave thought to have led to a water source, he noted.

Bishop Deputy of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Archimandrite Nektarious described the discovery as an “important milestone for Christians all around the world”.

"The only other cave in the world similar in shape and purpose is in Thessalonika, Greece," the bishop said, according to The Jordan Times.

Officials at the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism said they plan to use the discovery to promote tourism in the area in the near future.

Some 30 churches have been discovered in Rihab, according to Hussan, and Jesus and Mary are believed to have passed through the area.

Our respect for the Church of England will erode unless we see a return to traditional teaching

Anglican gay ‘wedding’ stokes anger

by Daniel Blake
Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2008, 17:31 (BST)

Reports of a gay ‘wedding’ in the Church of England have angered conservative members and prompted an investigation by the Bishop of London.

A report in The Sunday Telegraph said that the Rev Peter Cowell and the Rev Dr David Lord exchanged vows and rings in a wedding-like ceremony at St Bartholomew the Great Church in the City of London last month.

The ceremony, held on May 31, violates official Church guidelines, which maintain that marriage is between a man and a woman and ask that clergy do not bless homosexual partnerships.

A spokesman for the Church of England told AFP, “What we seem to have here is a fairly serious breach of the rules by an individual or groups of individuals.”

The Rev Martin Dudley, who oversaw the ceremony, said he had no regrets and told the BBC that he had not broken instructions from the bishops.

"It wasn't a gay church wedding, it was the blessing of two people who have contracted a civil partnership,” he told the BBC.

"They wanted more than I was able to give - they wanted something more like a wedding. I was not willing to do that because I believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

"Therefore we had to negotiate the form of the service, the words that were used, so that I could say them with integrity, but they also found that they expressed their love for each other and their commitment to each other.

"But what we actually did was to celebrate in the context of holy communion, of a solemn celebration of the eucharist, their love for each other."

Conservative Anglicans have reacted with anger, including the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Rev Henry Orombi, who told The Sunday Telegraph, “The leadership tried to deny that this would happen, but now the truth is out.

“Our respect for the Church of England will erode unless we see a return to traditional teaching.”

According to the blog of Peter Ould, one of the founders of Anglican Mainstream conservative network, the liturgy used in the ceremony spoke of the “union of two people in heart, body and soil […] intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity”.

He wrote in his Sunday posting that “the explanation that this was only intented [sic] to be a ‘blessing’ is specious”.

always wanted to be a June bride

Gay US bishop and long-term partner in civil union ceremony

The gay US Episcopal bishop at the centre of the Anglican church's global battle over homosexuality has entered into a civil union with his long-term partner at a private ceremony.

About 120 guests gathered at St Paul's Church in New Hampshire for Saturday's ceremony for Bishop Gene Robinson and his partner of more than 19 years, Mark Andrews. The event was kept private out of respect for next month's worldwide Anglican conference, Robinson's spokesman, Mike Barwell, said on Sunday.

"It was absolutely joyful," Barwell told Reuters. "A lot of his supporters and friends were there, including many members of the gay and lesbian community."

In a letter to the head of the Anglican Communion, the Standing Committee and Diocesan Council of New Hampshire has condemned the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, for excluding their bishop from this year's Lambeth conference and urged him to reconsider his decision to prohibit the gay cleric from participating in the 10-yearly gathering of the world's Anglican bishops.

"We, the clergy and lay people of the diocese of New Hampshire, vehemently protest your refusal to send an invitation to the Lambeth Conference to our bishop. In addition we protest your censorship of Bishop Robinson from preaching or presiding at a Eucharist while he is in England. Not including our Bishop means that you also exclude our representation and participation."

The letter was received at Lambeth Palace on May 29. No response has been received from Williams.

Signatories to the letter added that they failed to see how barring the bishop fulfilled the Anglican ethos of respecting differences and promoting tolerance. "We hope and pray, in the little time left before Lambeth, that you will reconsider a decision that so wrongfully excludes the people of the diocese of New Hampshire."

Robinson announced in March that he would have no official role in the conference, saying the restrictions that organisers wanted to place on his involvement had caused him "considerable pain".

Lambeth is an invitation-only event and Robinson has been specifically, and publicly, snubbed twice by Williams in the past two years.

His refusal to include him has been interpreted as an attempt to appease conservative factions who have opposed the gay bishop's election and consecration.

Many of those bishops have chosen not to attend Lambeth, despite Robinson's official exclusion, because of their unshakeable views on homosexuality.

Saturday's wedding will further infuriate his detractors. Robinson announced his intention to have the ceremony this month, saying he had "always wanted to be a June bride", but kept the date secret.

This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday June 09 2008 on p16 of the International section. It was last updated at 00:01 on June 09 2008.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Christians cannot be silent

Maranatha: Christians can’t be silent on forgotten young people

by Anne Thomas
Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2008, 12:50 (BST)

The Government’s neglect of young people amounts to a “huge national crisis”, the Maranatha Community has warned.

The Christian group, which focuses on the care of children and young people, has expressed alarm over the high number of young people – 1.25 million – between the ages of 16 and 24 who are now without education, employment or training, defined by the Government as ‘Neets’.

“Thousands of them often feel they have no future and suffer from rejection and depression,” the organisation said. “Some of them are highly vulnerable and can easily be drawn into anti-social behaviour.”

Maranatha has issued a statement, “Sitting on a time bomb”, to political, social and religious leaders warning them of the challenges, which it said also included the burden on the economy caused by youth unemployment and crime, and binge drinking, drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

Dennis Wrigley, leader and co-founder of Maranatha said, “The situation of these young people is often tragic in terms of their own lives but is also a desperately serious threat to our society and our economy. Christians cannot be silent.”

Maranatha is calling on the Government to drive youth problems to the top of its agenda and launch an investigation into their root causes.

“The widespread social disorder, vandalism, violence and gang culture on our streets are warning signs,” the group said.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

We cannot avoid pain, however hard we try. But we can avoid joy.

All The Joy You Need . . .

Thomas Aquinas once said, "No one can live without joy." But many people try. And the reason is often simply because they don't know how to be happy! They are so intent on the three P's - power, prosperity and prestige that they miss out on joy.

Try to imagine this picture. It is a photograph taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who pioneered modern photography as an art form during the early decades of the 20th Century. He became known for his photographs of apparent contradictions: pictures that left mysteries unexplained.

One of his famous photographs was shot in a poor section of Spain in the 1930s. The picture depicts a run-down alley surrounded by decaying walls, strewn with rubble randomly stacked in thick piles lying on the street, and riddled with bullet holes dotting gray walls. The setting alone evokes feelings of sadness and despair.

But then...the contradiction. Within the grim alley children are playing. They wear dirty and tattered clothes, as one might expect in such a setting, but like playing children everywhere, they laugh with carefree joy. In the foreground, a tiny boy on crutches hobbles away from two other boys, his face lit up with a broad grin. One boy is laughing so hard he has to hold his side. Others lean on the cracked walls, beaming with delight.

It is easy to spot the contrast - and the point. Joy amidst the rubble of life. Laughter amongst life's ruins.

We cannot avoid pain, however hard we try. But we can avoid joy. We cannot escape hardship and trouble, but we can miss out on much of life's peace and laughter.

If you feel as if you could use more joy, try this:

* Spend time daily doing something you enjoy.
* Do those things that bring inner peace.
* Learn to laugh heartily and frequently.
* Cultivate an attitude of hope.
* Fill each day with as much love as it can possibly hold.

You'll still have plenty of problems, but through it all, you'll find all you joy you will ever need.

-- Steve Goodier

God never wastes experiences – good or bad!

Three ways God wants to use your experiences

by Rick Warren, Christian Today Guest Columnist
Posted: Friday, May 30, 2008, 12:52 (BST)

I like chocolate chip cookies. I like them so much I know how to make them. I don’t even need a recipe. But if I eat the individual ingredients, they taste like turtle spit!

Ever eat a little shortening? Don’t try it. Raw egg? Bad. Salt and sugar by itself? Yuck. Baking soda? Not good. Chocolate chips? Now that’s good. One out of six isn’t bad. Somehow when you mix five bad things with one good thing and stir them up together, it tastes so good that you eat half the dough before you make the cookies.

Pastor, that’s what God wants to do with your experiences. He wants to take bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, good and turn you into Mrs. Fields! He’s a pro at it. God does not want you to waste your experiences. He wants to use them to make you a more effective minister.

There are three ways that God wants to use your experiences to make you a better minister.

1. Use them to minister to others.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1:6-7 (LB): “We are in deep trouble for bringing you God’s comfort and salvation. But in our trouble God has comforted us – and this, too, to help you: to show you from our personal experience how God will tenderly comfort you when you undergo these same sufferings. He will give you the strength to endure.”

God comforts us, helps us, and strengthens us when we’re experiencing problems, so then we can comfort, help, and strengthen others when they go through the same things. God helps us, so we can help others. God wants to use every experience that you’ve gone through to help somebody else.

Who can better help somebody going through cancer than somebody who’s been through cancer? Who can help somebody dealing with an addiction than somebody who’s been through the addiction before? Who can better help parents who had a kid who went off the deep end, than somebody whose son or daughter went off the deep end?

God never wastes a hurt. I’ve said that a thousand times at Saddleback. It’s true for pastors as well. He wants you to use them to minister to other people. What you’re most embarrassed about, what you most regret, God wants to use to help others. But, pastor, before that can happen, you’ve got to be honest about it. If you open up about that pain, it can become you’re greatest ministry. You always help people more through your weaknesses than your strengths.

2. Use them to motivate others.

Your experiences can be inspirational to people because you have been through things and been places that they have not. And you can motivate them.

The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (TEV): “Encourage one another.”A big part of our job in ministry is to help, encourage, and build up others. Your experiences can help do this.

Your experiences give people hope. You show them they can get through their problems.

Give people hope and you take away the fear that plagues them. When you go on a roller coaster that you’ve never been on, it’s comforting when the guy in front of you in line says, “This is a great ride. I’ve been on it five times.” You realize that you're going to live. If the guy in front of you lived, you’ll probably live too. That’s encouraging!

Pastor, your preaching can do this for people. When you speak from personal experience, it’s always more effective than any other kind of teaching. The most powerful way to say anything is the most personal way to say it. When you speak from your own personal experiences, particularly difficult ones, you’ll motivate others to keep going through their troubles.

3. You use them to model for others.

Paul says in Philippians 3:17 (NLT): “Dear brothers, pattern your lives after mine and learn from those who follow our example.” Paul tells the church of Philippi to follow his example; he’s going to be the model.

Paul knew that we all need models. It is human nature to imitate. Just about everything you learn in the first five years of life you learn by imitation.

There’s nothing wrong with your church members imitating you. You’re not perfect, and I’m not perfect; only Jesus is perfect. But it’s better to have people following you as a model than some Hollywood celebrity who is obsessed with himself or herself. You’re trying to follow Jesus. If you’re trying to follow Jesus, then it’s a good thing if others are following you.

You need to have models in your own life, and you need to be a model. If you’re not being a model, you’re wasting your experiences.

God never wastes experiences – good or bad. He wants to use your experiences to make you a more effective minister. Will you let him?


Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

I'm going to have to find you another wife!'

Philly's Black Muslims Increasingly Turn to Polygamy

Polygamy in the U.S. is not limited to remote enclaves in the West or breakaway sects once affiliated with the Mormon Church. Several scholars say it's growing among black Muslims in the inner city — and particularly in Philadelphia, which is known for its large orthodox black Muslim community.

No one knows exactly how many people live in polygamous families in the U.S. Estimates from academics researching the issue range from 50,000 to 100,000 people.

Take Zaki and Mecca, who have been married for nearly 12 years. In their late 20s, they live in the Philadelphia suburbs, have a 5-year-old son and own a real estate business.

Zaki also has something else: a second wife.

Two years ago, Mecca told her husband she wanted to study Arabic in the Middle East, which would mean a lot of time away from home. (NPR is not using any full names in this story because some of those we interviewed could be prosecuted for bigamy.)

"We were talking about it," Mecca recalls, "and the first thing that came to my mind was, 'I'm going to have to find you another wife!'"

Zaki was game. After all, he had been raised in a polygamous home in Philadelphia. Like many black Muslims, his father subscribed to an orthodox view of Islam that allows a man to marry several women. Zaki says he loved having seven siblings and four mothers, especially at dinnertime.

"I would find out who's making what that particular night. I know that this mom makes barbequed chicken better than my other mom makes fried chicken, so I'm going with the barbequed chicken tonight. Things of that nature," he says with a laugh.

Unlike Zaki, Mecca was raised by a single mother and converted from Southern Baptist to Muslim when she was 16.

Finding Another Wife

When it came to finding a second wife, Zaki said he had no one in mind, and he asked Mecca to conduct the search.

"You know, he gave me the baton, and I took it and ran with it," Mecca says.

Mecca launched a nationwide search. She found candidates by word of mouth. She scoured the Internet. Eventually, she interviewed about a dozen women.

"I had to make sure that she'd be the right fit — not just for my husband, but for our whole family," Mecca says.

But the ultimate match was right under their noses: 20-year-old Aminah, who was a friend of Zaki's younger sister. Aminah knew Mecca was looking for a second wife but thought she was too young. That is, until one night after a dinner party when Mecca pulled her aside. Mecca asked Aminah if she would consider marrying Zaki.

"And I said, 'That's funny, because I was thinking the same thing,'" Aminah says.

Zaki was the last to know the identity of the final candidate to be his bride. He could have vetoed the choice, of course, but he was delighted.

In October 2007, he and Aminah married in a religious, not civil, ceremony. Many polygamous marriages are conducted in secret and are not legally binding because state laws prohibit them.

Aminah recalls that Mecca helped prepare the wedding feast.

Aminah, who's finishing college, lives in an apartment a few miles away from Mecca's house. Zaki moves between homes on alternating nights. But every week after Friday prayers, they get together as a family.

"It can be a variety of things," Zaki says. "Going to a nice restaurant, catching a movie, going bowling, maybe seeing a concert. All kind of things."

"I always call it family date night, because it's one big date," Mecca says. "We just chill. I always look forward to it. We always have a ball, laughing, goofing around."

Treating Each Wife Equally

On a recent day, Zaki's attention is on Aminah. Riding the elevator to her penthouse apartment, he explains that it's Aminah's 21st birthday and he's taking her to New York to see a Broadway show.

"She has no idea what she's going to do today," he whispers. And so while Zaki's second wife is changing for a surprise trip, his first wife is getting the train tickets and making the arrangements.

"See, you got to work as a unit or it's very inconvenient otherwise," he laughs.

As Zaki hurries Aminah along, he says he will do something equivalent for Mecca on her birthday. Islam requires that the husband treat each wife equally. Zaki explains that doesn't mean he gives them the same things. For example, Mecca likes jewelry but Aminah doesn't.

But, he says, "If I upgrade one, then I have to upgrade the other. But the upgrade may not be the same because you have two different women with two different tastes."

They've worked out a system. Even still, why would a woman want to share her husband?

"Well, I'm looking at it more as a spiritual perspective," Mecca says. "Zaki is a blessing — just like everything else. He is a loan from God, is the way I look at it. And in my religion, if he's able and capable to [marry another wife], I wouldn't want to hold him back. So, why not?"

She acknowledges that there have been "a few bumps in the road." But she hasn't once second-guessed sharing Zaki with Aminah.

As Mecca speaks, Aminah nods in agreement.

"I might have certain feelings when my husband walks out the door and I haven't seen him all day, but I know his responsibility is not only to me. And the respect I have for my co-wife, all that plays a role in how I handle my emotions," Aminah says.

'Two, Three, Four'

Zaki believes ultimately, polygamy is good for society — especially in the inner city, where intact families are rare and many kids grow up without their fathers.

"There are a lot of blessings in it because you're helping legitimize and build a family that's rooted in values and commitment. And the children that come out of those types of relationships only become a benefit to society at large."

Many orthodox Muslims agree. You can find them on Fridays at a mosque in South Philadelphia.

The congregation that has gathered in a slim townhouse is largely African-American. The rules are orthodox, and the prayers (if not the sermon) are in classical Arabic.

Abdullah, the imam, has conducted religious ceremonies for a dozen polygamous marriages.

Abdullah says polygamy in Islam dates back to the 7th century, when battles were killing off Muslim men and leaving widows and children unprotected.

As a result, Abdullah says, the Koran specifies that a man can marry "women of your choice: two, three, four, and if you fear you cannot be just, then marry one."

"And so, a lot of scholars look at it sequentially," he says. "Two is optimum, then three, then four, then as a last resort, one!"

A Shortage of Men

And while polygamy may seem like a man's paradise, Abdullah says, often an unmarried woman initiates it.

"Sometimes a woman may be interested in a man, but he's off limits. That's not the case in Islam. Does he have four wives? No? Then he's still available."

That's how Abdullah met his second wife. A divorcee, she heard Abdullah preach a few sermons and approached his wife to ask if he would be interested in a second wife. Soon she married Abdullah and now the imam cares for two families — with 13 children and another on the way.

The single women at the mosque say polygamy is a fact of life. But it's not their first choice.

"Every woman has a preference to be the sole wife," says Aliya, echoing the sentiments of the others. Aliya is a 28-year-old single woman who is finishing up a master's degree. She says that South Philadelphia in the 21st century is a little like Arabia in the 7th century. There is a dearth of men to marry.

"We're dealing with brothers who are incarcerated — that is, unavailable," she says. "And then unfortunately, you have the AIDS and HIV crisis, where HIV has struck the African-American community disproportionately to others. So when you look at it that way, there is a shortage."

Shaheed's Story

With this numerical advantage, some men collect wives for the sex. But some men also marry out of altruism. Consider 43-year-old Shaheed, who is married to Alieah.

Fourteen years ago, his friend died. The friend's wife, Nadirah, was 30 and expecting her third child. That brought her to Shaheed's attention.

"When we came to the grave site — I remember it as if it were yesterday — what stuck out was that her demeanor was so calm," Shaheed says.

Nadirah is an elegant, contained woman. After becoming a widow, she decided the only way she would marry again was as a second wife.

"At that point in my life, I was used to being alone," she says, running her household as she liked, "as opposed to constantly being with someone and attending to someone else's needs."

She accepted Shaheed's proposal. But she quickly saw the tricky relationship was not with Shaheed. It was with his wife.

"We met, and we had dinner, and we had lunch and we went out and shopped and did different things at that point. As the marriage got closer, I think she was more apprehensive and more unnerved by the pending situation."

"I remember me telling him, 'Please don't go,'" Alieah says. "He's like 'What do you mean? The wedding is today, you're telling me not to go today?' I'm like, 'Just don't go!'"

Alieah, who is 40, says she considered Shaheed's commitment to a widow "noble." Afterward, however, she considered divorce. She eventually decided she did not want to start over. After two years of misery, Alieah says, she had a spiritual epiphany.

"I literally just got up one morning and said [to God], 'OK, this is what you want me to do. I'm going to handle it in a civil manner, and I'm going to do X, Y, Z about it,'" Alieah says. "And from that point on, it was the strangest thing, because it never bothered me anymore. I never even thought about it."

The family began to operate like a well-oiled machine and a model of polygamy in their Muslim community. Shaheed runs his own security company. Alieah teaches first grade, and Nadirah home-schools some of the family's 10 children.

"We really depend on each other," says Nadirah, who considers Alieah a friend.

What About the Heart?

There are benefits to polygamy for the wives, Nadirah says.

"She could fill something that even a husband couldn't fill. It was a cross between a sister and a friend and a co-worker," she says. "You have a cushion or a help that you didn't have before."

At first, the two families lived in separate homes. Now Shaheed, his two wives and nine of his 10 children live in one house. Each wife has a bedroom on a separate floor, but everything else is communal, including cooking and eating. Shaheed says it's not easy to treat his two very different wives equally, but he tries.

"I'm not going to be overly affectionate with this one as opposed to this one out in the open," he explains.

And what about controlling his heart when it comes to these two women?

"That's something that you can't really control," he says. "But materially, you want to do that as adequately as possible."

For her part, Alieah is philosophical about love.

"You cannot blame someone for where their heart lies."

Did she have a sense of whether her husband was falling for someone else?

She pauses.

"It really didn't matter," she eventually answers. "I just knew he had someone else in his life, and it wasn't me."

Alieah says polygamy isn't easy for either wife, though she believes it is harder on the first.

"The second wife is receiving something, where a first wife will feel that something is being taken away from her," she says. "I mean, I'm devoted to you for my whole life, but you're only devoted to half of my life."

Alieah's youngest child is 4 years old. Her oldest — a 17-year-old daughter — says she's had a happy childhood in a polygamous family. But she hopes she won't have to share her husband with anyone else.

One is enough for me?

Some Muslims in U.S. Quietly Engage in Polygamy

All Things Considered, May 27, 2008 · Although polygamy is illegal in the U.S. and most mosques try to discourage plural marriages, some Muslim men in America have quietly married multiple wives.

No one knows how many Muslims in the U.S. live in polygamous families. But according to academics researching the issue, estimates range from 50,000 to 100,000 people.

You can see some of the women involved in polygamous marriages in the lobby of Sanctuary for Families, a nonprofit women's center in New York City. It bursts with color as a dozen women in bright African dresses and head wraps gather for a weekly noon meeting for West African immigrants. The women come each week to this support group where they discuss hard issues, such as domestic abuse, medical problems, immigration hurdles and polygamy.

Polygamy is freely practiced in parts of Africa, and almost every one of the women in the group has experienced polygamy firsthand – either as a wife in a plural marriage or having been raised in families with one father who has two or more wives.

Group member Sarah says that in her native Guinea, the husband springs it on his wife that he's going to marry someone else. Sarah, like the others interviewed for this story, would give only her first name.

"Sometimes he say, 'OK, I am going to be married tomorrow,' or 'I'm going to be married today.' He's going ask you like that. It happened to me," she says.

Sarah begins to cry. Others nod in sympathy. These women are all Muslim. The Koran states that men may marry up to four women. The Prophet Mohammad had multiple wives.

But there's a restriction, says Sally, another group member. The husband cannot favor one woman over another – with his wealth or his heart.

"You have to love them the same way, share everything the same way, equally," says Sally. "Nobody can do that. It's impossible."

Invisible Lives

Still, Muslims practice polygamy in the U.S., despite state laws prohibiting it.

Here's how a man gets around the laws: He marries one woman under civil law, and then marries one, two or three others in religious ceremonies that are not recognized by the state. In other cases, men marry women in both America and abroad.

Many women keep quiet for fear of retribution or deportation.

For example, Sally's husband moved to the United States from the Ivory Coast before she did. When Sally joined him, she found he had married someone else in America. But without legal immigration papers, she didn't dare come forward and report him to the authorities.

She said when she arrived in the U.S., her husband and his new wife put her in the basement.

"They told me to cook, clean, do everything. I didn't speak English. And he told me, 'Don't say nothing. You say something, she's going make you deported. And me, I'm going to be in jail.'"

Eventually, Sally left the house with her children, and now works at a hair braiding salon. But that fear of deportation prevents many from leaving their polygamous relationships.

"Legally, they're invisible," says Julie Dinnerstein, a senior attorney for Sanctuary for Families. "If you are the second or third or fourth wife, that marital relationship is not going to be recognized for immigration purposes. It means if your husband is a citizen or green card holder, he can't sponsor you. It means if your husband gets asylum, you don't get asylum at the same time. The man is always going to be in a position of greater power."

Secret Ceremonies

In the past decade, Muslim clerics began to notice that some men who wanted a religious wedding were already married to someone else.

According to Daisy Khan, who heads the American Society for Muslim Advancement and is married to an imam, polygamy is more common among conservative, less educated immigrants from Africa and Asia. It is rarer among middle-class Muslims from the Middle East. She adds that nowadays, imams do background checks on the grooms to make sure they're not already married in their home countries.

Some clerics in the U.S. perform second marriage ceremonies in secret.

Khan, who does pre-marriage counseling, says she always raises the issue of polygamy with engaged couples.

"I also explain to them that as a woman, you have certain rights, and as a man, he may one day exercise his right to have a second wife," Khan says. "And usually the man says, 'No, no, no. I'm never going to do that.' And I say, 'Well, in case you ever get tempted, how about we put that in the contract?'"

For Others, a Blessing

Abed Awad, a family law attorney in New Jersey, says for many Muslim men, multiple wives means many children — which is considered a blessing in Islam. And since Islam allows for sexual relations only in marriage, polygamy legitimizes the relationship in God's eyes.

Awad says conservative Muslims argue that in polygamy, "You're actually responsible for that person as your spouse. And the sexual relationship becomes a relationship of love and companionship as opposed to just a sexual fling."

Awad stresses he does not condone polygamy. But he says some conservative Muslim women see some advantages — particularly those who are divorced or widowed.

Mona, a Palestinian woman with six children from her first marriage, is happy to be a second wife. When Mona got divorced in 1990, she became a pariah in her conservative Muslim community in Patterson, N.J.

"When ladies divorce," she says, "the people look down on her — looking to her like [she's] second class."

Then 14 years ago, a man approached her to be his second wife. She resisted at first but then grew to admire him and agreed to become his wife. She says her problems evaporated.

"When I married the second husband, everybody's OK," she says, smiling. "If I go anywhere, I'm free, nobody talks, because I have a husband."

He provides for both of his families, and he divides time between the two homes. Mona says the first wife was initially angry, but she got used to it.

"What is the problem? If he is not happy with the first marriage, why he stay all the life like this? You know, my religion is good because it gives man and woman another chance to be happy."

NPR is not revealing Mona's last name, and her husband would not be interviewed for this story. Her husband could be charged with bigamy.

'One Is Enough'

At Mam African Hair Braiding salon in Queens, N.Y., husbands are often the topic of conversation.

As the Senegalese owner, Miriam Dougrou, weaves cornrows on a young woman, she says that her father married four women and she had 19 or 20 siblings. She lost count. So did her father.

"Sometimes he doesn't know who's who, and he forget the name" of his children and wives, she said.

"He calls them No. 1 and No. 2," says Dougrou's husband, Timothy.

Miriam Dougrou does not want Timothy to have a second wife. "Sometime he talked about it — like a joke. But I told him, 'I'm not joking. Don't tease me because I won't be a second wife. I'm going to be the first and last wife.'"

So does Timothy, who's sitting in the corner keeping awfully quiet, want a second wife?

"No," he says with a half smile. "One is enough for me."

If "Idol" wants to get back its former glory, it should once again show some sympathy for the devil.

'Idol' Worship

What's behind the newfound Jesus-friendliness of "American Idol"?

Emma Rosenblum, The New Republic

Published: Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"American Idol," which concludes its seventh season tonight, has always been touched by God. Each year, there's at least one contestant who sways through a gospel song, jams out to a song by a Christian rock band, or performs a number about how Jesus loves you (so call in to vote!). It's "American Idol," for crying out loud, so it's no surprise that Jesus would pop up here and there. But Christianity was never a show-sponsored policy, nor was its promotion a popular position. Two years ago, contestant Mandisa Huntley famously sang a song called "Wanna Praise You," announcing, "This song goes out to everybody that wants to be free. Your addiction, lifestyle, and situation may be big, but God is bigger." After the performance, Simon Cowell--producer, judge, voice of amusingly brutal and bitchy honesty--rolled his eyes and called Huntley "indulgent." Viewers also seemed to disapprove of her preachy (not to mention slyly homophobic) tone, and she was voted off two weeks later. That was the closest "Idol" ever came to being a forum for proselytizing. If anything, the producers have tolerated very un-Christian-like behavior from contestants, including lewd photos (Antonella Barba last year and this season's Ramiele Malubay) and backgrounds in male stripping (David Hernandez's pelvic thrusts made it all too obvious). Sure, second-season contestant Frenchie Davis was kicked off after a nude photo scandal, but only because the shots appeared on an illegal website promoting sex with underage girls. But showing skin on MySpace? Not a problem. And "Idol"'s penchant for dressing female contestants in crotch-grazing skirts and plunging halter-tops doesn't quite jibe with fundamentalist values, either. So how--and why--did this season turn into such a Jesus-fest?

To start, it has to do with this year's crop of contestants. Both 17-year-old front-runner David Archuleta (he of the controlling stage-father, recently banned from rehearsals) and perky blonde Brooke White, who came in fifth, are practicing Mormons. Though they didn't speak explicitly about their faith on the air, their religious beliefs have been widely reported, and they've both alluded to them onstage: Archuleta talks about his church performances as a child, and White, before she was sobbingly given the hook, shared her aversion to R-rated movies and alcohol. Archuleta, easily the fans' favorite performer this year, hasn't shied away from spiritual song choices: He's sang "Angels," "When You Believe," and "You're the Voice"--a trifecta of pro-God pop songs for which the audience has cheered (and cheered ... and cheered). Did Cowell or the other judges deem Archuleta's selections "indulgent"? Not in the least. They absolutely loved it, in fact. Cowell called "Angels," which Archuleta chose because he was moved by the song's "message," the "best song choice of the night so far." Huh? Since when did Cowell become a proponent of songs about religious faith?

Archuleta, whose fan club calls itself the Arch Angels, has no doubt mobilized the Bible Belt voting base, and the producers of "American Idol," faced with an average ten percent ratings decrease this season, are perhaps resigning themselves to the fact that the U.S. is, indeed, a very religious country. A guest appearance by Dolly Parton reinforced the new idea that "Idol" is open to getting in touch with its spiritual side. Parton belted out "Jesus And Gravity," and then the Clark Brothers came onstage to sing "This Little Light Of Mine/Jesus On The Mainline." "American Idol" used to be a home mostly for top-40 hits, from Britney Spears to Maroon 5, and the Jesusified combo was more than a little jarring.

Some chalked up the show to the God-heavy country music genre instead of seeing it as a reflection of "Idol"'s changing core values. After all, country week is usually "Idol"'s most religious (and most hastily fast-forwarded through by me). But the Jesus-happy tone this season has gone beyond a few outlier shows or contestants.

Take April's heavily-hyped "Idol Gives Back" charity extravaganza, in which the contestants, dressed all in white, sang a group version of "Shout to the Lord," accompanied by a full-blown gospel choir. The song began "My shepherd, my savior," with the word "shepherd" a substitution from the original version. As if the show's new politics weren't clear enough, the next episode started with a group version of the same song, only with the original version: "My Jesus, my savior." Whoa.

Will "Idol"'s Christly makeover continue? The Fox executive who oversees the show, recently declared, "'Idol' is all about cast and controversy." The goody-goody makeover certainly doesn't bode well for controversy. Little David Archuleta's not getting into any sex scandals, and Brooke White would sooner be caught dead than in Internet porn. Can the show live on Christian values alone? I have my doubts. Carly Smithson, a tattooed Irish rocker girl, was eliminated after a lively performance of the title song of Jesus Christ Superstar. Fans speculate that a contributing factor was the song's seemingly heretical stance--in the musical, it's sung by Judas. The Bible Belt's gain is "Idol"'s loss. A wholly wholesome music competition produces a lot of Pat Boones, but no Elvises or Chuck Berrys. It's no coincidence that the most Jesusified season of "Idol" has been its most boring one yet. If "Idol" wants to get back its former glory, it should once again show some sympathy for the devil.

Emma Rosenblum is an editor at New York magazine.

The church is the transformative agent of Christ’s love within culture through the direction of Scripture and the power of the Spirit

Pass the Popcorn Analysis: Engage culture without assuming it

(ABP) -- I’ve got to be brutally honest; I’m not a Rob Bell fan, although many of my students are. He has two best-selling books: Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (2005) and Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections between Sexuality and Spirituality (2007).

Additionally, he has completed three “teaching” tours, the most recent in 2007, where he visited America with his “The Gods Aren’t Angry” tour. Each tour was staged in a secular venue with theatrical lighting and the ever-hip, culturally relevant Bell at its center.

Although I disagree with much of Bell’s theology, this does not mean that I don’t appreciate what he is attempting: an engagement with culture. “Culture” is the matrix of human activity and structures that give life significance. In Christian theology, culture, like humankind, has experienced the Fall.

As sensationalist and provocative as his titles are, Bell is attempting to be relevant to “fallen” postmodern culture. Many young believers and spiritual seekers, feeling disenfranchised from the modern church, have flocked to Bell’s tours, podcasts and books. In Bell, they have found a kindred spirit -- someone who has experienced their disenchantment with the modern church, yet one who seems to have found a way to connect them to an authentic, relevant faith in God through Jesus Christ.

Regardless of what position you take on Rob Bell, he forces each of us to deal with the issue of culture and its relationship to our theology. This is an age-old struggle. It is the struggle of the Israelites with the Canaanites, Jesus and the various Jewish sects, as well Paul and the Greco-Roman culture of his day.

Theology and culture are locked in an eternal struggle until the end of days.

Interestingly, Christians can claim that the Bible lands on both sides of the debate. On one hand, Paul seems to encourage an engagement with contemporary culture in the form of his sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17:22ff).

On the other hand, Paul states that we should not “conform” to the world in his letter to the Romans (Rom12:2).

But if it is an age-old struggle, why then has it erupted with such a vengeance today?

A simple explanation is that culture is changing at a faster pace than ever previously understood. Technology advanced at such a rapid pace in the 20th century that it outpaced our ability to understand its moral implications. So, culture becomes a swamp of ethical and theological questions amidst a global technological explosion.

Complicating this situation, it would also seem that some of the philosophical concepts that helped sustain our modern culture are being questioned today. Thus, although the scientific, technological and philosophical ideals of modernity have been a great benefit to us, these ideals simply aren’t enough to sustain us spiritually.

Consequently, we now live in a culture of difficult change where the very basis of modern Christianity is being questioned at every turn. How are we to proceed as faithful followers of Christ in such a chaotic cultural climate? How can our theology meet this challenge?

Let me suggest a two-fold answer: engagement, not assumption.

First, we must engage culture, which I believe to be the very heart of our Christian mission. This is the legacy of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) and the witness of Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17). The church is the transformative agent of Christ’s love within culture through the direction of Scripture and the power of the Spirit (Luke 10:25-27).

Nevertheless, in this engagement, we do not assume or acquiesce to culture. Christ transforms it (Romans 12:2; 1 John 2:15).

As Christians, we have something unique to offer to our world -- the witness of Jesus. As Baptists, we affirm the centrality of Christ and the authority of Scripture as our sole rule of faith. That is the “what” of our assumption.

The Scriptures, as the book of the Spirit, then give guidance in regards to the “how” of our practice. What the Scriptures do not address directly will stand in tension with our engagement of culture.

A vigorous attempt to understand and engage culture, without surrendering to its secularizing philosophical tendencies would benefit the church well in the third millennium.

So Rob Bell and others of the emerging generation, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet to us all. Thank you.


-- Jay Smith is assistant professor in the School of Christian Studies at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas.

If Christians aren’t engaged in culture, they will not change the world or have an impact on society

Pass the Popcorn: Christians struggle to decide how best to engage culture

(ABP) -- If Christians don’t learn to engage the popular culture that surrounds them, they will drown in it, experts insist.

“Christians tend to hear the words ‘popular culture’ and react as if spitting something yucky from their mouths,” said David Dark, author of Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, the Simpsons and Other Pop Culture Icons and The Gospel According to America.

But popular simply means “of the people,” he said. “It is never something we exist objectively from. It’s like the air we breathe, the language we use. … If we’re thinking, ‘Now we’re going to engage pop culture,’ it’s too late. We’re already soaking in it.”

Jeffrey Overstreet, contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, freelance movie reviewer, and author of Through a Screen Darkly and Auralia’s Colors, agreed.

“We are born into a pop culture,” he said, describing that culture as the very temporary, disposable details of a particular time and place.

Overstreet didn’t always see the importance of connection to culture. He grew up in a family that encouraged him to avoid pop culture and “steer clear of anything that did not have a clear connection to church,” he said. Rock music was questionable, and theaters were “dens of sin, contaminated by culture.”

Under the guidance of teachers, he realized complete separation from culture wasn’t the model Christ set.

“He was to be found at the corner pub, surrounded by messed-up people,” he said. “He was there among them, but he was different. He was compassionate.

“The more I look at it, in order to have a meaningful influence on society, we need to live fully engaged lives. How do we do that without hearing the stories told [in the wider culture]? Without listening to the music played?”

If Christians aren’t engaged in culture, they will not change the world or have an impact on society, said Greg Fiebig, associate professor of communication and theater at Indiana Wesleyan University and former theater director at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo. “We’re not going to do it. Period.”

He said Christians, especially in Christian academia, tend to live in a bubble. “People isolate themselves,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with isolating ourselves -- Jesus did -- but if we don’t know how to exist in the larger culture when we emerge, we have failed.”

Instead of hiding from culture, Christians can use it as a learning tool, Fiebig said.

“When I show someone a movie or present a show, I’m telling a story that needs to be told,” he said. “Jesus spoke of loving and caring for people where they were. The last thing he did was judge people. It is harder for us to judge when we are willing to listen to their story.”

Part of the learning experience is realizing that Christians don’t have a monopoly on the truth, Dark said.

“We are learners of Christianity,” he said. “It’s weird the way we talk, as if truth is something we have over other people. That’s no way to talk about faith, as if it is property. … When we view our faith as a bragging right or a secret password, I don’t know how we think others will be attracted to that.”

Instead, that type of view cuts Christians off from their neighbors, Overstreet said.

“We need to see and understand our neighbors,” he said. If Christians only pay attention to items of culture that affirm their own worldview, “we don’t understand what the world looks like to them.”

Christ went to the woman at the well and began asking her questions, he said. He didn’t simply bombard her with the gospel.

He added that people know when they are the subject of marketing campaigns. “So much of Christian art is just advertising for Jesus,” he said. “If we just keep shouting, we shouldn’t be surprised when people react like we are salesmen.”

He recalled driving under an overpass where someone had spray-painted in big letters, “Jesus is the answer.” Underneath, in a different color, another person had responded, “Yes, but what’s the question?”

Christians shouldn’t be handing out answers to questions that haven’t been asked, he said. Instead, pop culture can be used to kindle questions.

But engaging culture will, no doubt, lead to viewing, reading or listening to objectionable content.

“As a Christian, I believe it can be insightful to critique movies for what they might have to say about important aspects of our lives,” said David Thomas, associate professor of rhetoric emeritus at the University of Richmond and freelance writer for Christian Ethics Today.

“I’m less interested in whether a movie contains language that offends me, or has scenes that depict sex or violence, than I am in determining whether the stories and characters ring true, and in what the characters’ moral and ethical choices lead to.”

That’s not necessarily a widely held view among many believers. “Christians tend to believe that films have the power to single-handedly disrupt or uproot a person’s spiritual development if they contain corrupting elements,” said Chad Johnston, production assistant for Allen Press in Lawrence, Kan., and adjunct online instructor in communication and film at Drury University in Springfield, Mo.

“I do think people should be discerning about what they watch, but throwing out the baby with the bathwater -- and sometimes the bathtub -- is a flawed method of encountering and dealing with media.”

He compares watching films to meeting people. When meeting a person, it is easy to dismiss him or her due to a simple disagreement, but perhaps at the expense of a potential relationship or opportunity for growth, he said.

“It always surprises me that Christians will dismiss an ‘R’-rated film, yet read ‘R’-rated books in the Bible, like Judges,” he said.

“I tend to think that life is ‘R’-rated and should not be experienced without a Parent -- i.e., our heavenly Father. After all, how can we handle the tougher realities of life, being as fragile as we are? So I recommend that if you are hesitant to watch a particular film, you should ask yourself why, and perhaps do some research. If you are still uncomfortable with seeing it, or you simply feel it is bankrupt of any value spiritually, by all means avoid it.”

“To think of a human story as objectionable is not fair,” Dark observed. “If all we do is count bad words or feel offended, we are not relating to the world we are called to love or the world God so loved.”

But that does not mean anything goes, he emphasized.

“I wouldn’t say anyone needs to walk into dangerous places,” Overstreet said. “Each person needs to know their own strengths and weaknesses. But a lot of ‘R’-rated films are profound movies.”

The importance lies in knowing how to interpret films, which may be difficult for those who have never studied literature or other arts, Overstreet said.

Fiebig added that the American culture has lost a lot of ability for interpretation because of the tendency to be individualistic. “Movies are not meant to be seen in the privacy of your own home,” he said. “They should be communal, with time for discussion.”

Dark agreed that too much such privatization has occurred. Typically, he said, Christians will watch, listen or read, but pretend the stories aren’t important to them when they step into church. “We are not living out loud to one another,” he said.

When Christians view things in isolation, they often miss the redeeming value, he said. “When we live isolated lives, we often hold wrongly applied guilt, as if our enjoyment is somehow separate from our relationship with God.”

Thomas’ church tries to break through the isolation by offering courses in faith and culture. He worked with Doug Gebhard, a pastor in Rockingham, N.C., to design a liturgical film class that accompanied the seasons of Lent and Advent.

“The movies we chose had a Lenten or an Advent theme,” Gebhard said. “David explained rhetorical devices in the film -- plot, symbolism, etc. -- while I pointed out theological themes [like] suffering, sacrifice, redemption.”

Gebhard has led other classes that reached beyond film.

“I hoped to prod people of faith to look at movies, listen to music, read novels with a lens of faith,” he said. “What spiritual messages can you see in Star Wars? The Matrix? Ironman? Where is Christ found in Springsteen’s anthems? U2’s music?”

Johnston also partnered with a friend to lead a film class, called Sanctuary of the Cinema, at University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., where he lived until last year.

“Our goal was to explore films through the interpretive lens of Christian spirituality -- to see the light of God in the light of the silver screen,” he said.

The class met in the upstairs college Sunday school class, which featured comfortable chairs and couches and a projector to watch films on a large screen.

Sanctuary of the Cinema was advertised at local college campuses, coffee shops and an independent movie theater. As a result, the class was a diverse group. “Some of them were churchgoers, and others were a bit leery about the whole thing being set in a church,” Johnston said.

The group watched independent, art and foreign films together, then discussed the film, using questions from a faith perspective to help guide discussion.

Despite differences among the class members, “we all bonded because of the beauty of cinema,” Johnston said. “I think it’s because cinema is capable of reminding us all of what we share, rather than how we differ. Narrative cinema tells the sorts of stories that are common to all of us, and we therefore feel like we have a share in what’s happening onscreen.”

And, ultimately, that viewing can lead to Christ. “I have come to see the silver screen as a window overlooking a theologically charged world,” Johnston said. “As I look through this window, I find that I am better able to understand who God is, who I am, and how I relate to God and others. It is not a substitute for the Bible, but rather a supplement to it.”

A starting place for finding films to use in discussion is the Arts and Faith websites’s Top 100 Spiritually Significant Films list, published at The list is compiled by voting members of the site, including Overstreet, and is updated each year. The website also features discussion groups on film, music, literature, visual art, theater and dance, and television and radio.

Fiebig helps lead a film festival at Indiana Weslyan. Last year, the first year of the festival, they decided to screen Hotel Rwanda, a film depicting the true story of Paul Resesabagina, a hotel manager who helped house over a thousand Tutsi refugees during the Rwandan genocide.

A student from Uganda who had lost family members during the struggle attended the screening. He began the discussion after the film by announcing he could not stay, due to the fresh emotions the film conjured, but he asked the other students to pray for Rwanda and Uganda.

“It was an amazing moment,” Fiebig said. “In a room full of college students, you could hear a pin drop. A Hollywood film became a worship service.”


27 May 2008

Dear Prayer Partners,

1. I am preparing to go to Klang Valley to preach in a family church camp. Jessie and Ana will be accompanying me during this trip. Appreciate your prayers for mercy journey and for the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself to the campers.

2. Pray that God will manifest His glory and cause the campers to rise up to declare the majesty and greatness of God in Jesus Christ, for in Him dwells the fulness of God (Col 1:19). Bringing glory to God was the life purpose of Jesus Christ.

3. Pray that they will choose to love and worship the Triune God with all of their hearts. Pray that they will be passionate and zealous for the shekinah glory of God! Pray for me as I will also be preaching in other services before the camp.

4. After the camp, I will be back in Spore to attend my DMin lectures. Pray for me as I have several camps and teaching commitments until the end of the year.

June Klang Valley Family Church camp

Dmin lecture (Eldership)

July Penang teaching in a seminary (Leadership)

Aug Sibu preaching in an undergraduate camp

Miri preaching in family church camp

Sept Klang Valley teaching in a Bible College (Christology)

Oct Klang Valley teaching in a Bible College (Christology)

Kuching? Camp (tbc)

Nov DMin lecture (Ethics)

Dec Miri? Camp (tbc)

5. In between the travels, I am involved in giving Bible Study and counseling to various groups in Spore. Pray for me as I need divine wisdom, discipline and creativity to complete my assignments as well as to finish preparing all my teaching materials and messages.

6. There are so many needs, and it is not possible for one to minister to all of them. There are just not enough full-time trained pastors out there and the existing full-time ministers are over-stretched. Most people are avoiding full-time ministry, especially with the unrealistic demands and overly awful compensation.

7. To keep myself from burning out, I have turned down a number of invitations. Jessie has also lovingly relieved me from many household duties so that I can concentrate on the things that I need to do. She is a wonderful helpmate who understands the ever draining demands of ministry. And Ana is a great source of joy with her bubbly nature. Both are God’s loving provision to keep one sane in ministry!

8. And thank you too for your continued partnership in prayer and financial support. Without them, it would be difficult to serve so freely, without any expectations of payment from any of them. Pray that the Lord will continue to raise up more regular supporters as the ministry keep expanding – and as someone mentioned that I need to plan for my retirement now. I would have to trust the Lord that He would take care of that.

There is still time to plant the seeds of the Gospel message all over the world for the glory of God. Our mission is to proclaim Christ crucified, risen, and coming again. We do this by all means possible especially through preaching, training, discipling, and mentoring.

The message of the gospel will upset many when faithfully preached

Opinion: Politics and the power of the Cross

(ABP) -- Sen. Barack Obama’s recent resignation of his membership in Trinity United Church of Christ was probably inevitable, but it is a melancholy occasion nonetheless. Since I cannot know the likely Democratic presidential nominee’s heart, I don’t know whether this was a cynical political move or a heart-rending decision. But this much is obvious: in Sen. Obama’s opinion, his Chicago church home -- or at least his membership there -- had become a political liability.

The resignation is melancholy because it speaks so starkly of the division in our society not only among the races, the classes, and the political parties. It speaks of the price of power in our nation and of our convictions about where actual power is to be found. The affair illustrates for me the continual and forced relegation of faith to the sphere of the purely private.

As has been observed elsewhere, a great part of Sen. Obama’s appeal has been his seeming ability to overcome the divisions that have for so long characterized the political life of the United States. Not least among these divisions was the sacred/secular. Here was a Democrat who could speak convincingly not only of the importance of a generic faith, but of his specifically Christian faith. And he did so without the overtones of triumphalism or exclusivity that so often alienate those of the so-called “progressive” element of national life.

I think these words of faith were heard with such hope because Obama tied them not to the glittering generalities of the American civic religion, but to the actual life of a real congregation. It was at Trinity Church that he met Jesus, at Trinity that his marriage was celebrated, at Trinity that his children were baptized. That congregation formed his life.

And this is the congregation that he is willing to leave in order to gain the presidency.

I should say that I am not particularly troubled by the few minutes of “rantings” from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright -- Obama’s former pastor -- or by the few seconds of the same sort of things by Father Michael Pfleger, the Catholic priest who inflamed controversy over Trinity again over the Memorial Day weekend.

And further, I am quite willing to believe that the totality of the ministries of this congregation dwarf whatever offense is given by these YouTube moments. What bothers me is the implication that the real power to make a difference lies not in the church’s engagement with the world, but in the activity of a governmental office.

More than one “expert” called to offer insight on the recent pastor problems experienced both by Obama and his Republican rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain, has called for the complete relegation of religion to the private sphere (“Why won’t these preachers just shut up? Why don’t our politicians keep their religious opinions to themselves?”) so that we can get on with the serious business of electing our leaders. In other words, banish religion to the non-public sphere where it ceases to threaten or offend, and politics will be better off.

If the early followers of Christ, however, had understood religion as private and politics as the machinations of government in the public sphere, there would have been no conflict with the Roman Empire. The early church, however, refused to avail itself of the protection of the cultus privatus (private sect) status that it could have enjoyed under Roman law. They saw, rather, that Christianity entails a whole way of life -- one that encompasses both the so-called private and public spheres. Thus they described the body of Christ in political terms: “a holy nation”(I Peter 2:9), a citizenry (Ephesians 2:19) and the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).

What we need to remember is that the gospel is offensive. Aside from whether the antics of certain preachers upset the world, the message of the gospel will upset many when faithfully preached. The wisdom of the Cross is foolishness to the world. If this cruciform folly is not embraced, “the Cross of Christ [will] be emptied of its power” (I Corinthians 1:17).

Sen. Obama says that he and his wife will choose a new church after the election. In other words, after the real work has been done. Such a decision makes quite clear where his hope for the future lies.

Hope in the power of the Cross, however, cannot be set aside or relegated to a private sphere. Rather, following the Cross empowers the body of Christ to overcome divisions in all areas of life and extend God’s love to all the nations.

Such hope might make Christians look foolish in the eyes of the world. Let’s hope so. It’ll be a sign that our lives, public and private, are more determined by the power of the Cross than other principalities and powers.


-- Beth Newman is professor of theology and ethics at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.