From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:17).

Okay, what is repentance? Let’s start with a Greek lesson: “Metanoia” (repentance) literally means: to change your thinking. “Meta,” in this case, means after, connoting a change or reversal. “Noia” comes from “nous” and refers to the mind. As metamorphosis means to change one’s form, metanoia means to change one’s thinking, which in turn shapes a new way of living.

When Jesus told a story about a prodigal son who turned his life around, He described the son’s repentance by saying, “He came to his senses.” (Luke 15:17).

  • So, if anorexia has made you thin as a rail and yet you still “think” you are fat (a common self-delusion), then among other things you need metanoia.
  • If you are a heavy drinker or smoker and you “think” you are unalterably programmed as such (impossible to stop), Jesus’ solution is to repent.
  • If you were born a male with male body parts but “think” you are a woman, repent! Seeking help is crucial but worthless if you bypass metanoia.
  • If you “think” you are in love with someone else’s spouse, repent.
  • If you “think” you are homosexual, repent!

Do you roll your eyes at such “simplistic” thinking? Well, they rolled their eyes at Jesus too, and worse. But He understood the meaning of metanoia and the transforming power from God that comes with it, regardless of how long it takes. Jesus’ challenge to repent is a call to come to the end of yourself and turn yourself (head, heart, body and soul) over to God.

Popular psychology often does an end run around repentance and collects its fees by convincing people that self-delusion is “honest.” When Bruce Jenner declared he has always been a woman, he was widely described by our culture’s sheep-herders as finally being “honest about who he is.” Yet few say he should give his gold metal back because the gender requirement in 1976 now disqualifies him. Sadly, self-delusion is popular.

Our culture believes in a popular god who is powerless to transform sinners who get stuck in the sort of “complex” thinking that keeps them stuck in their sin. I call it “stinkin’ thinkin’. The heart that refuses to repent always dominates the mind to harness it for making high-minded excuses for that refusal. Jesus knew better. He calls us to repent and trust God for forgiveness and transformation. This is the only way to unshackle the mind for free thinking and godly living.

Listen to the prophet Isaiah:

    Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. (Isaiah 5:20).

It takes a lot of neck-stiffening mental energy to learn how to call evil good and good evil. That sort of unspiritual mental activity is what Jesus wants 100% repudiated and reversed, which explains His unrelenting focus on metanoia.

“But One Life to Lose”
~ Nathan Hale (1755-1776) ~

Nathan Hale never owned property, never fought in a battle, wrote nothing that lasted, invented nothing of note, did not marry or have children, and he failed as a spy. Nevertheless, Connecticut’s state hero commands my enduring admiration.

Today, a captivating bronze statue of Hale stands on the old campus of Yale University. The artist, Bela Lyon Pratt (1867-1917) used a handsome young Yale student, born about 135 years after Hale, as his model. He stands defiant and resolved to his fate with his hands and feet bound and his head held high. The statue was given to Yale College by graduates and friends in 1914 and it stands near where Hale (Yale class of 1773) was housed as a student.

One day in the late 1990s, I toured the Yale campus with a student guide who scoffed at Pratt’s statue, dismissing Hale as a “lousy spy.” As a respectable tourist, I wanted to hear Hale regaled as a gallant American hero, like my school teachers did back in the 1960s. Alas, not that day. Not that student. Not that tour. The group shuffled on, but I lingered at the statue to savor the famous last words attributed to Hale engraved at the base. Still captivated, I returned later one cold winter day to sketch this sculpture. Here is the result:

The real Nathan Hale was not made of bronze. He was born in Coventry, Connecticut on June 6, 1755, of strong Puritan stock. As the sixth of ten Hale children who survived, he was raised to fear God and focus in earnest on matters of right and wrong.

In 1769, Nathan and his brother Enoch (ages 14 and 16) entered Yale College, armed with a working knowledge of classical Latin authors like Cicero and Virgil. They had read the Greek New Testament as well as biographies of Cyrus the Great and Philip of Macedon. Both teenagers engaged their studies and “secret prayers” carefully and participated in debates over all the great issues of the day.

According to Elisha Bostwick, a friend, Nathan had blue eyes, flaxen blond hair, dark eyebrows, fair-skin, and his agility was “remarkable.” He excelled as a scholar athlete in wrestling, football (such as it was) and the long jump. Another friend, Eneas Munson, observed: “Why all the girls in New Haven were in love with him.”

Bostwick also described Hale as “pious,” a core component of the American spirit back then. After his death at age 21, countless friends testified to Hale’s earnest faith, gentle dignity and visible integrity. Elizabeth Poole, described her friend as “free from the shadow of guile,” a quality that did not help him later as a spy.

Nathan graduated with honors at 18 and took a position as a schoolmaster in East Haddam, Connecticut, and later in New London. One of Hale’s students, Samuel Green, recalled his teacher as having “fine moral character.” There is no greater compliment for a teacher.

In 1774, Nathan joined a Connecticut militia and later became one of six Hale brothers who served in the Revolutionary War. He rose to the rank of captain and was cited again by Bostwick for visiting sick soldiers and praying with them.

In the fall of 1776, General Washington’s forces were driven out of Long Island and he suspected the British would soon invade Manhattan. He needed a volunteer to infiltrate enemy territory to collect intelligence. Hale stepped up. He was caught out of uniform and with an incriminating map with Latin notes in his shoe. Without a trial, British General Howe ordered Hale to be hung the next morning, September 22, 1776. He was denied his request for a Bible and clergy to be with him but was allowed some last words. He reportedly uttered an epic line from a play titled “Cato” by Joseph Addison that ushered him into the annals of American history:

    I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.

A voracious reader, Nathan was inspired by great words. The words above may or may not have been his last. Who knows? What I admire most about Hale is not so much his alleged famous last words, impressive as they are, but what all those friends who knew Nathan thought of him.

Baiting the Hook

“Falsehood is never so successful as when she baits her hook with truth.”
Charles Caleb Colton (1780–1832)

Twenty-five years ago, I recall the shock of seeing the following four categories in the “relationship” section of the want-ads in a local newspaper:

  • Men Seeking Women
  • Women Seeking Men
  • Men Seeking Men.
  • Women Seeking Women.

The times they were a-changing. They still are, at warp speed. I have not checked lately, but I presume there are more categories now, like…

  • Men Seeking Both.
  • Women Seeking Cash.
  • Questioning Seeking Anything.
  • All of the Above Seeking All of the Above.
  • Old Men Seeking …

Oh, never mind.

But there I was, in a waiting room twenty-five years ago perusing the want-ads for entertainment. Reading one ad after another, I figured out the abbreviations. The cluster “SBF” meant single black female. “DWM” meant, divorced white male. I think the “C” meant Christian.

One particular word (never abbreviated) was used repeatedly by seekers to describe themselves and those they were seeking. With pen in hand, I began to circle that word and soon the entire page was a virtual constellation of circles.

Most ads were pleasant but serious. Some used humor to attract attention. Seekers described themselves in glowing terms. I saw parallels with the animal kingdom as I read various attempts by seekers to apply their wits in articulating their mating call in a way that stood out from all the others.

Hobbies were often mentioned. Some liked cats. Others, dogs. Many enjoyed walks along the beach. Those with cooking skills did not fail to mention it. Hints were dropped to imply that the advertiser was a person of means. Various jobs and careers were represented. Many claimed to “fun-loving.”

But one self-description surpassed all others in frequency. It was in all the circles I made on the page. Nearly every seeker used it.

Okay, enough stalling. Here’s that promiscuously over-used word: “Honest.”

Of course, glowing claims do not always line up with reality. Just think what sort of world this would be if everyone who sincerely thinks they are honest actually was! Think of how healthy most marriages would be!

Okay, stop dreaming.

Last year, a blogger named Edie Wadsworth posted an article titled “Why Marriage is So Hard?” . Her answer was provocative and wise. According to Wadsworth, it is not because women are from Venus and men are from Mars, nor is it because modern times are more volatile to marriage than previous eras. She wrote, “The reason marriage is so hard is because you’re more sinful than you think you are.”

Ouch! She added, “You are always the hero in your mind.”

Her answer may not apply to your marriage. But if not, it probably does apply to everyone else’s. Judge for yourself. But that just my point—we tend to judge rather poorly for ourselves. King David stepped on a lot of toes 3,000 years ago when he sang: “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his own sin.” (Psalm 36:2).

French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal sliced it up this way: “There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous.” (Pensées, 1670).

Alas, there was no way to tell on paper whether the seeker was truly honest or baiting the hook. It’s hard to tell in real life too. But if honesty actually is a good way to describe you, then you would be a great mate!

A “Heretic” Remembered

An ignominious anniversary is upon us! Call me a history nerd (not to be confused with a history expert) but if you love the Bible, the story below about a bold heretic will inspire deep gratitude in your heart and mind.

Six Hundred years ago, on May 4, 1415, John Wycliffe (c. 1330 –1384) was declared a heretic and his writings were banned, though he had been dead for 31 years. Thirteen years later, in 1428, Pope Martin V was still so livid that he ordered Wycliffe’s corpse exhumed and burned. His ashes were cast into the River Swift running through Lutterworth, England.

What on earth had Wycliffe done to make the powerful so furious? Why was disgracing him 44 years after his death such a high papal priority?

John Wycliffe hailed from Yorkshire, England, and was educated close to home. He ended up at Oxford University as a Doctor of Divinity. More dangerously, he was a powerful preacher who looked to the Bible as his guiding light. He preached with strong moral courage and conviction and was known for purity in living. He was dangerous for several politically incorrect reasons:

  • He opposed the imperialized papacy of his day and denounced the monastic orders as “sects.”
  • He opposed secular entanglements and special status for the clergy. For Wycliffe, high clerical offices and sacramental ritual as secondary to individual holiness and devotion to the local community of faith.
  • He criticized the pomp and luxury of the churches, including the expensive artwork and the veneration of icons.
  • He believed that the Church had forsaken the word of God for human tradition. With help from colleagues, Wycliffe produced many English language copies of the Scriptures, translated from the Latin Vulgate (the only text available to him). Putting readable Bibles into the hands and hearts of the people was intolerable.

With dangerous opposition on the rise, Wycliffe suffered a stroke and died while saying Mass on Holy Innocent’s Day in 1384. His teachings continued to spread and followers multiplied. This explains the fury of the authorities against Wycliffe 44 years later. Possessing an English translation of Scripture without proper permission became a capital crime.

On July 6, 1415, only 70 days after the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic, a Wycliffe follower named Jan Hus was burned at the stake. Wycliffe’s Bible manuscripts were used as kindling for the fire.

About 100 years later on October 31, 1517 , Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses of Contention to the door of the Wittenberg Church provoking the Protestant Reformation. A few years later, Luther translated the Bible for common German readers.

Wycliffe is remembered today as the “The Morning Star of the Reformation.” I consider Wycliffe, William Tyndale, Martin Luther and others who made the Bible readable to common folk to be the greatest heroes of history. Without them, there would have been no Reformation. Without the Reformation, the Enlightenment would never have emerged. Human civilization would certainly be more primitive, corrupt and backward today without these brilliant and brave men of God.

Nothing transforms human history for the good like the Bible in the hands of regular people.

I Think, Therefore I Love

    “Cognito ergo sum.”

    Rene Descartes (1596 – 1650), French philosopher

Back in the 20th century, while visiting a friend in Tennessee, I heard a guy named Bob address a gathering of Christian musicians and pastors. Bob was introduced as a prophet. Decked out in an old t-shirt to cover a pot belly, he issued the following prophetic call:

    “Lose your mind over Jesus!”

He spoke long enough to make it clear that he practiced what he preached.

Unlike Bob, I don’t see faith as a lobotomy. Unlike Karl Marx, I also don’t see religion as opium. As a Christian, I strive to be a critical thinker without being a critical person.

Jesus established a track record of out-thinking the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes and others who tried to trap Him with trick questions. He knew the Scriptures far too well to be hoodwinked and His reasoning skills left His critics confused and frustrated.

One day after Jesus “silenced” some Sadducees, another law expert asked Him which was the greatest commandment in the Law. Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37). Mark’s gospel includes a fourth way to love God: “with all our strength.” (12:30).

So, do we love God in three ways or four? No, we love Him in one way; with every ounce of our being. Loving God is our polar star. As everything else in the universe rotates, that star stays steady in the sky.

Jesus continued, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:38). In other words, our greatest love begins with God and belongs to God. But it does not stop there.

God wants our love in the form of wisdom, temperance, and courage. He wants our thoughts, values and passions. He does not call us down some yellow brick road in search of our brain, heart or courage only to discover that we had them inside all along. Rather, Jesus calls us to use our brain, heart and soul to look outside our sinful selves to the God of the Universe to love Him first.

With the decline of thinking has come a diminished affinity for gratitude, trust and love. Technology, entertainment, medicine, industry and academia can flourish but our quality of life will regress if the quality of our thinking erodes, regardless of other forms of progress. We are called to be good thinkers but were not born only to think. We are here to love God first and love our neighbor as ourselves. Think about it.

Good thinking is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It should inspire wise thanking, trusting and loving. The words “think” and “thank” both come from the same pre-historic Germanic root. To this day, both concepts involve connecting cause-and-effect concepts. Thus, good thinking and good thanking run together. After all, God is the ultimate cause for everything we need and are. We love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). He is the ultimate object of our thanking and the ultimate aim of our thinking.

This essay began with a notorious Latin line from a famous French philosopher. It is time to translate it: “I think, therefore I am.” I am grateful for this affirmation, but good thinking does not stop there. Not all who love to learn will learn to love. Nevertheless, learning to love is the highest form of learning we can pursue. Think that through and you might just end up in the arms of the great “I AM.”

Arel’s Armor

Back in 2014, when my friend Arel was just 99, he thanked me for a sermon I preached on the Armor of God. I replied, “It looks like you’ve got your armor on, Arel.”

He replied, “Well, it’s pretty dented up.”

Perhaps, but our church is excited about Arel’s upcoming 100th birthday party! We plan to polish up his armor with lots of love and maybe a little roasting while we’re at it.

A century ago, on April 23, 1915, Victor Arel Henry was welcomed into this world in Texline, Texas, by Earnest and Mary Henry. The Henrys lived in New Mexico, but soon moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1921, a riot destroyed over a thousand Tulsa homes as Earnest hid for three days in a grain elevator. So they resettled in Bonanza, Colorado, where Arel’s dad heard there was a place called Clarkston, Washington, where you could grow anything—a virtual “Garden of Eden.” So when Arel was eight, they packed up the ol’ Model-T and moved to the Lewis-Clark valley where Earnest began growing vegetables. 92 years later, Arel still thinks this valley is a “the best place in the world.”

Around 1935, Arel entertained the notion of becoming a hobo. One spring day, without telling anyone, he began walking from Clarkston Heights toward the Orchards in Lewiston, Idaho. A little hitch-hiking and some train hopping later, he showed up in Oklahoma to see his grandmother. He worked all summer with relatives in New Mexico and finally turned toward home in the fall. Along the way, in Colorado, his lack of a coat became an issue. One night he begged for a bed in a local jail and they let him have one. Despite being sick and hungry, he made it to Lewiston where Earnest spotted him on the side of the road and took him home. Thus, it was early in life that Arel learned it is better to work than be a hobo.

And work he did, well into his 70s.

Arel is what we call a “BRC-squared” church member (born and raised in the Church of Christ). For 100 years, he has passed through church doors three times a week, except when on the road. He met his future wife, Grace, at the Lewiston Church of Christ. They married in 1939 and stayed hitched until Grace passed away 71 years later.

Arel worked with his hands. Farming and sawyer work drew Arel and Grace to three states while raising five children: Jan, Jim, Larry, Tom, and Dan. Beginning in Lewiston, they resettled in Wallowa, OR, Steamboat Springs, CO, and Kuna, ID, before returning to Lewiston where they built a home in the Orchards. Later, at 62, Arel gave up the saw mill to take up trucking for the next 13 years.

When the 21st century arrived, Arel was 85. His son Jim took him up the North Fork of the Clearwater River where they hiked the Nub. That’s a 5,000 foot climb over 5 miles, one way. Arel did not quite make it to the tip top but I think I’ll leave that detail out.

Amy Adams, of Lewiston, recalls how her granddad delivered Meals on Wheels for “old” people until he was about 90. She describes Arel as gentle and kind, contrasting the stereotypical old man who gets cranky with age.

Arel loves to sing. He led his church in singing for decades but his song-leading days were behind him when I arrived as the new minister in 2011. One Sunday, I preached on the topic of singing praise to God. Arel thanked me in tears. He later explained that after nearly a century of listening, he had heard plenty of sermons against musical instruments but never one in full praise of singing.

Two years later, Arel hit another musical milestone—he danced! His dance partners were his great grandchildren. One of the band-members was his preacher, which Arel said later would not have amused his dad. Having been taught that dancing is wrong, Arel now thanks God for letting him live long enough to learn to enjoy such family-bonding opportunities guilt free.

Today, Arel listens to sermons with headphones but still sings the bass parts on key. He may not sing from the front or stand behind our pulpit, but his 100-year ongoing sermon may be the best one our church has seen. In the end, shiny armor is over –rated. I’d much rather fight the good fight alongside the guy whose armor is dented up.

Liberty and Law
(America the Beautiful)

“And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.”
(Psalms 119:45).

Liberty and law are friends, not foes. The best way to lose both is to choose just one or the other.

The Ten Commandments were given to a free people. They begin not with a command but with a credential which qualifies God as a Lawgiver: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2). The fact that ten commands follow signifies how connected liberty is with the rule of law.

Three thousand years later, a deep longing for religious liberty beckoned the Pilgrims to strange shores across the Atlantic. You know the tune; sing with me the second verse of America the Beautiful (1893), by Katharine Lee Bates:

    Oh beautiful for pilgrim’s feet,
    Whose stern, impassioned stress;
    A thoroughfare for freedom beat
    Across the wilderness!

The Pilgrims likened themselves to the ancient Israelites seeking freedom through a wilderness. They honored Israel’s God as a deliverer and lawgiver. They looked to Moses as God’s agent of national freedom and His custodian of the law. The Pilgrims, like the Puritans who followed, saw liberty and law as complementary legacies.

America was built on these two legacies. Our Constitution emerged from the wise conviction that onerous laws can decimate liberty as effectively as lawlessness. The marriage of liberty and law forged a unique heritage that has been carried to us by countless curriers, including the following:

    Edward Hyde (1609 – 1674), 1st Earl of Clarendon:

      The law is the standard and guardian of our liberty.

    Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790), author, printer, inventor, and statesman:

      Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.

    Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933), 30th President of the USA, from his Philadelphia speech on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of The Declaration of independence, July 5, 1926:

      The people have to bear their own responsibilities. There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to the government. It is not the enactment, but the observance of laws, that creates the character of a nation.

    Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013), Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990:

      Freedom will destroy itself if it is not exercised within some sort of moral framework, some body of shared beliefs, some spiritual heritage transmitted through the church, the family, and the school.

    Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), 40th President of the United States of America:

      Law and freedom must be indivisible partners. For without law, there can be no freedom, only chaos and disorder; and without freedom, law is but a cynical veneer for injustice and oppression.

    Marvin Olasky, editor of WORLD Magazine, in an op-ed, June 28, 2003:

      Civilization is passed on in part when children who want to be free learn that self-restraint is the key to true liberty… Husbands and wives can only fully enjoy the freedom of marital bonds if they exercise self-restraint in regard to others who could readily become objects of lust.

Let’s close with the chorus of America the Beautiful (1893):

    America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
    Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!

A Symphony of Sycophants

It was 852 BC. The kingdom of Israel had been divided for eighty years. In the North, King Ahab was in his 22nd year of rule. In the South, King Jehoshaphat had reigned in Judah for 21 years. A land dispute led Ahab to ask Jehoshaphat to ally with him in a fight against Aram (east of the Jordan). Jehoshaphat responded, “Please inquire first for the word of the Lord.” (1 Kings 22:5).

Kings back then were surrounded by prophets. Ahab’s wife Jezebel came to Israel with a gaggle of pagan prophets serving Baal and Asherah. She slaughtered so many prophets of Yahweh that Elijah thought he was the only one left, even after he presided over Yahweh’s huge victory on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). Actually, there were still 7,000 prophets who had not bowed to Baal (19:18). Later, in 852 BC, the good king Jehoshaphat was seeking the word of Yahweh’s prophets.

Small problem: the vast majority of prophets in that day, regardless of their stripe, were sycophants—fawning parasites swarming around royalty for personal security. Elijah had been a bold exception to this norm but he was apparently out of pocket. So, a lesser known prophet named Micaiah stepped up in 852 BC to be the exception.

Ahab set the stage carefully. He rounded up 400 puppet prophets at the threshing floor near the town gate. Both kings were adorned in royal robes, sitting on their thrones and surrounded by a huge throng of Ahab’s sycophants. All the accoutrements for intimidation were in place.

Like a proverbial choir, the prophets unanimously sang, “Go up, for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” (22:6). Zedekiah the sycophant stepped up with a dog and pony show to re-enforce the message of the ‘yes men.’ To impress Ahab who was trying to impress Jehoshaphat, Zedekiah put on “horns of iron” to dramatize the future goring of the Arameans (22:11). Imagine the cheers.

Jehoshaphat was not impressed. He asked if there was another prophet of Yahweh besides these hand-picked poodles. Ahab admitted there was, but he hated this negative nay-sayer. Yet he sent for him upon Jehoshaphat’s request. Even the un-named messenger who summoned this unpopular prophet played his politically correct (PC) part. He gave Micaiah some “friendly” advice: “Behold now, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king. Please let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.” (22:13).

PC intimidation occurs at all levels, from top to bottom. The intimidated often pass it along. That’s how corruption controls a culture. “Go along to get along!” “Don’t make waves.” “Forget truth and follow the money.” “Settle!” “Everyone else is doing it.”

In a world of pretense, Micaiah responded, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I shall speak.” (22: 14). The plot takes some strange and sarcastic twists from there but Micaiah stood out as the exception. It does not end well for Ahab.

Nine centuries later, Jerusalem welcomed Jesus to town with shouts of “Hosanna,” but were soon intimidated into shouting “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:14). When Pilate asked the chief priests, “Shall I crucify your King?”, they answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15). They sold themselves to servile political correctness.

Today (2015), the media are the main enforcers. When they spin a false narrative, as in the Michael Brown tragedy, they heap scorn on those who think for themselves. Those who supported the false “Hands up, don’t shoot” narrative used intimidation to keep dissenters in the closet. No one wants to be accused of racist motives.

Some PC Americans are even upset that I used the initials “BC” in this article.

Christians are called to be the exception. Faithful bakers, florists, photographers, chaplains, clergy and more face a rising pressure help celebrate (not just tolerate) same-sex marriage under the intimidation of lawyers and the force of law. Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, recently signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act to provide reasonable protection for people of faith regardless of color or ethnicity. Outraged homosexual militants are putting all their powers of phony scorn and intimidation into play. “Boycott Indiana” is their mantra. Shockingly, politicians who recently supported such laws are suddenly feigning outrage. The NCAA, Angie’s List, the CEO of Apple and many other sycophants are clamoring to undermine the most basic human right of all—the right of conscience. Many will cave.

Is your faith for sale? Is your freedom cheap? In 852 BC, a politically incorrect prophet defied intimidation saying, “As the LORD lives…” (22: 14) and stood firm. Of course, if you think God is dead, go ahead and sell out.

Undaunted Bravery in the Bible

Besides being Bible characters, what do Pharaoh, Joshua, Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Jehoshaphat, Ahab, Jezebel, Jehoram, Jehu, Joash, Hezekiah, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazar, Darius, Caesar, Xerxes, Herod, Antipas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Cornelius, Felix, Festus and Agrippa have in common?

    Give up? This is a short list of political rulers or public officials in the Bible who were directly confronted or counseled by great men and women of God. Many of them got their personal morality challenged.

What do Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Deborah, Samuel, Nathan, Shemaiah, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah-son of Jehoiada, Daniel, Esther, Jesus, John the Baptist, Stephen, Peter and Paul have in common?

    Answer: They are among the many Bible heroes who confronted or served political rulers or public officials. Many suffered for their courage and some were slain by political authorities.

Honor is owed to such humble heroes as Job, Hannah, Ruth, Mary, Timothy, Titus and countless others who bravely performed less public roles. But when I hear people say that Christian leaders should avoid public moral and political conflict, I wonder if they have read the Bible. Here are a few agents of truth God inspired to confront moral and/or political concerns, often at great cost:


    confronted Pharaoh, the most powerful politician on earth, under God’s charge to boldly demand, “Let my people go!” (Exodus 8:1).


    bravely called King David on the carpet for his adultery, deception and conspiracy to rub out the loyal husband of the woman David impregnated (2 Samuel 12). David could have rubbed Nathan out for confronting him with the truth but Nathan didn’t care. He did his job undaunted.

    King Hezekiah,

    with Isaiah’s counsel and much prayer, held firm under the threat of a huge Assyrian army whose general tried to undermine Hezekiah’s confidence and break down the morale of the last remaining Israelites (Isaiah 36-38).


    bluntly confronted King Ahab three times, and King Ahaziah and Jehoram at least once. Each confrontation carried serious condemnation for the evil influence each king put into play with their political power.

    Queen Esther

    bravely confronted King Xerxes (her husband) knowing that it would put her life on the line. She said, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). She took the necessary political steps to reveal Haman’s evil plot to destroy her people. Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, also boldly refused to bow down to the haughty politician Haman (Esther 2:3).


    showed moral courage as a man of God throughout his public service in the Babylonian political court. When the Medo-Persians rose to power, he became a top Persian politician and administrator. His competence in this governmental role inspired the jealousy of his fellow administrators who managed to get Daniel thrown to the lions (Daniel 6).

    Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego

    bravely defied King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to bow down and worship a golden image in Babylon (Daniel 3). Trusting in God, they enraged the king so much he had them thrown into a fiery furnace.

    Nehemiah and Ezra’s

    teamwork illustrates the political nature of religious leadership in Bible times. Both governor and priest were outraged that previous kings, leaders, and priests had not kept God’s law (Nehemiah 9:34).

    God’s Prophets:

    The list would seem endless if I illustrated the political courage of all the prophets who proclaimed God’s word in rebellious and wicked times, challenging public sin and sin-pushers.

    John the Baptist

    fearlessly blasted Herod Antipas for stealing his brother’s wife, and for “all the wicked things which Herod had done.” (Luke 3:19). For his undaunted bravery, John lost his head.


    described his generation as “evil and adulterous” (Matthew 12:39 and 16:4). Yet, he wept with compassion for them (Luke 19:41-42). He engaged in local political conflict by standing up to the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees in his theocratic culture. Jesus defined marriage as a union God joins together as two (male and female) becoming one flesh (Matthew 19:5-6) and commented on controversies related to divorce laws. Moral and political conflict was a huge component of Jesus’ earthly ministry and it got him killed.


    had the moral courage, while on trial in the face of false witnesses, to boldly confront the Sanhedrin, the center of local political and religious power and they killed him (Acts 7).


    boldly charged audiences in Jerusalem with putting the Lord Jesus to death (Acts 2:35; 3:14-15; and 5:31) and boldly disobeyed strict orders from local religious politicians (the Sanhedrin) to stop. He explained, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29).


    faced tremendous pressure to back down from his faith but never did. A Pharisee turned missionary, he confronted a hostile Sanhedrin and a high priest described as “the ruler” of the people (Acts 23:5). As a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), he went on to confront a Roman procurator named Felix with the gospel. Then, he stood before the Roman governor Festus and found it necessary to appeal to Caesar Himself (Acts 25:11). Paul also worked to raise funds to relive poverty. Later, he advised Timothy to pray for kings and all who are in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2).


Jesus identified His followers as “salt” because he expected them to be sprinkled into the mix of real life on earth, including arenas involving art, culture, entertainment and politics. The gospel is not primarily political but it should be brought to bear for the good in any human realm, public and private. Political conflict may not be your calling but it is biblical.

A Fool and His Folly

    “Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs,
    Rather than a fool in his folly.”
    (Proverbs 17:12)

Watch out! On April 1st, practical jokes, pranks, hoaxes and playful lies will spike. It’s not a day for excessive trust. Maybe I should go for a hike that day–in bear country!

The origins for April Fools’ Day go back beyond reliable tracing. The roots for foolishness go back even farther. The Bible portrays foolishness in deadly serious terms. Proverbs indicates that fools despise wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), have “lying lips” (17:7), and refuse to turn from evil (13:19). Elsewhere, we read, “Anger resides in the bosom of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Finally, “the complacency of fools will destroy them.” (Proverbs 1:32).

Are you complacent?

But isn’t there a place for a little foolish fun? One famous April Fool hoax took place in a BBS television show on April 1, 1957, which reported a bumper spaghetti crop being harvested from Swiss spaghetti trees. The dreaded “spaghetti weevil” bug had finally been eradicated, or so they said. In 1962, a Swedish broadcast claimed that a nylon stocking over a TV screen would make the picture come through in color. Their in-depth explanation of the physics behind this phenomenon fooled thousands. Ha!

In 1511, a brilliant scholar in Northern Europe named Erasmus published a book titled, The Praise of Folly. In it, he recognized both the pleasure and the peril in foolishness. Pouring on the irony, Folly (the main character) praises herself constantly, thinking she is indispensable. Her self-praise leads to self-deception which is the highest form of folly—and the most dangerous. In short, fun is fine but it does not hold a candle to truth.

Let’s get serious. With the advent of the internet, readily shows, and entertainment news, it seems like every day is April 1st in America today. The blogosphere is full of baloney. Journalists and candidates invent heroic biographies. Some pretend to be minorities claiming the benefits that come with that status. Protesters often riot on false pretenses. E-mail scams, identity theft, media hoaxes, doctored photos, fake videos, false advertisements, phony phone calls, politician promises, and get-rich-quick schemes are just a few of the pot-holes that litter our cultural highway today. And they work like charms.

The ancient Greeks and Romans saw seriousness as a high virtue. The Greeks called it, semnos. In Latin, it’s gravitas. In both classic cultures, it was a virtue to be august, dignified, respectful and serious. The apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to be “semnos” (1 Timothy 2:2) and told him that any elders and deacons he might appoint in the church should be men of “semnos” (1 Timothy 3:4 and 3:8). An early Christian theologian, Clement of Alexandra (150 – 215 AD), defined gravitas as “a life turned toward the divine.”

Today, there seems to be as little semnos or gravitas as there is shame. Just turn on a TV. Much of our popular culture is designed to fool you into ignoring the serious side of life. Focus only on fun and Jesus’ central message of repentance and forgiveness will be lost on you. And you will be seriously lost.

God’s word teaches; “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh.” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Just don’t laugh at other people’s expense. A well-timed silly side is important. But at all times, whether weeping or laughing, apply wisdom. Beware of lovely liars, funny fools, slick charmers, hustlers, seducers, and snake-oil peddlers. Your chances are better with a mama bear in the wild.

So, have fun on April Fools’ Day but don’t live an April Fool’s life. The consequences of foolishness are hard to bear.