jasonbwatson

July 24, 2015

Friendship

Last month Tabletalk magazine included a devotional entitled “True Friendship.” It was based on Proverbs 17:17, which reminds us that a friend loves at all times. The writer of the devotional, though, went deeper than that verse in examining what friendship really is. He started off reminding us of the tremendous irony of the day in which we live–the fact that “we live in a world that is both more connected and more disconnected than ever before. Smartphones, social media, e-mail and other technologies make it simple to stay in contact with friends and loved ones even when they live thousands of miles away. And yet, there is a dearth of true intimacy.” This is certainly true, and I have explored this phenomenon in this space before. Social media and other communications technology can be a two-edged sword, providing wonderful benefits but also tremendous problems. Some of those problems come from the comparisons that inevitably result from the almost constant viewing of Facebook status updates and tweets among our contacts. Some of the problems come from the fact that we can communicate with almost anyone instantly yet we seem to have deep, meaningful conversations less and less frequently.

Another of the problems is identified by the Tabletalk writer this way: “With the click of a mouse we can be listed as the friend of someone whom we have never met–and probably never will meet–in person.” I am sure I am not alone in restricting my social media “friends” to people I really do know, but there is a large contingent of folks who like to see how high they can get that friend number. (I also know I am not alone in having received numerous “friend requests” from people I have never heard of, perhaps only because we have one “mutual friend”). Are all of my Facebook friends intimate friends? Of course not. But at least I really do know them all. The writer also mentions the challenge these days of having a “close friend of the same gender without raising suspicions of homosexuality.” Wouldn’t it be tragic if the single-digit percentile of the American population that claims to be homosexual could have really warped our view of human interaction to the point that two men or two women cannot be close friends without being suspected of being sexually involved? Of course, the inverse has long been true, as well–there were suspicions of “something more” when a male and female were close friends. Indeed, I have heard some people suggest that a male and a female cannot be close friends without it leading to something more, whether that “more” be sexual behavior, inappropriate non-sexual intimacy or just confusion and hurt feelings.

The devotional writer states that Scripture “offers a key corrective” to the problems of human friendship by “offering us a high view of human friendship. [Proverbs 17:17] lauds the benefit of true friendship, a relationship in which we receive love from another at our best and at our worst.” I would suggest that precisely because of this, true friendships are quite finite in number. Some people have hundreds of acquaintances and scores of friends, yet when they hit a real crisis they do not know who to call because they have no true, real, lasting friends, friends who will stick with them through the hard times, come along side during adversity, believe the best and stay true through the worst. If you do have friends like that–and I hope you do–I suspect you could count them on one hand, or certainly on two. “Our friendships are harmed and often destroyed when our friends reveal their flaws,” the devotional writer states. “Sadly, this means that our friendships are often quite tenuous, prompting us to look for a friendship that is secure because it is not based on what the other person finds lovely in us. The only one who can provide this friendship is Jesus Christ.”

I would posit that the only one who can provide this friendship perfectly is Jesus Christ, but it is possible to have human friends that do not run away when we reveal flaws, when we fall flat on our faces (literally or figuratively), when we do mess up or behave like a jerk. Certainly we have all had friendships that ended suddenly when circumstances changed, whether they be grades in school, new friends coming on the scene, interests shifting, opinions conflicting or whatever. These were seldom deep, meaningful friendships in the first place. If, however, you have been blessed to have longtime friends who have remained your friends even through challenges, disagreements and screw ups then you are truly blessed, and you have experienced Proverbs 17:17 in a very personal way.

My recent hiatus from blogging was due to a family vacation. During that time I was able to visit two longtime friends, one whom I have known for probably twenty-two years now, I guess, and another whom I have known for seventeen. I do not see either of these individuals often. In fact, one I had not seen in three years and the other I had not seen in perhaps ten. One I stay in fairly regular contact with through e-mails, the other I seldom communicate with. Still, based on our longtime friendships and past experience in both instances, I believe I could confide in both of those friends and turn to each of them for help in a real crisis in my life–even if it was a crisis of my own making. I think I know both of them well enough to know that they would be honest with me if I messed up but they would also help me get out of the mess rather than walking away. Interestingly, going back to one of the points discussed above, one of these friends is male and the other is female. Both friendships have had bumps, including some caused by own stupidity at times. (It really is incredible how much harm our tongues can do, isn’t it?) Repentance and forgiveness are wonderful things though, and stupidity does not have to be a friendship-ender in true, meaningful friendships. I have hundreds of Facebook friends and untold acquaintances and contacts through personal and professional life, but I have a handful of real, deep, true friends. I am blessed and encouraged by them. Some are male, some are female. When we get out of the way of ourselves and put our own preferences and opinions aside long enough to realize that the world does not revolve around us, to recognize that the love Jesus has for us is based on absolutely nothing we could ever do to merit, deserve or sustain it, it is possible to have such friendships. It is not easy; like I said, you will probably not have many of them. Do not, though, let the fact that it is not easy deter you. Do not let possible questions of “something more” interfere with the development and maintenance of real friendships with others of the same or the opposite sex. Do not let Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and texting be your only connection with your “friends.” Do not run the other way when you find your friends are not perfect. After all, you are not, either. Neither am I.

June 26, 2015

A Blog Post A Day…

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 7:55 pm
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With my last post I reached a milestone. You could now read one of my posts each day and have it take you a full year to get through them all. That is something I am not sure I ever imagined would happen when I started blogging a few years ago, but I suppose it is rather neat. When I started I did it because I thought it would be a nice opportunity to share my thoughts on a few things. I had no specific expectation as to how many people would read it, or even that anyone would read it. I was not very good a self-promotion then, nor am I now. Very rarely do I volunteer the information that I have a blog. Yet, it gets found and people do read it. In the world of blogs, mine is pretty insignificant. Some blogs have millions of followers and tens of millions of visits all time. My blog is followed by just under 100 people–many of whom I do not even know–and has received about 16,500 visits in all, with a single-day high of 204 visits. Interestingly enough, the most viewed post all all so far has been Checking My Gig Line, actually a pretty short post. Yet it has more than 150 more views than the runner up. Most surprising to me is that my blog has been viewed by people in 84 different countries. True, 74 of those countries have fewer than ten views each, but it’s still kinda neat. Perhaps most significant is that the number of viewers and visits continues to increase each year. I suppose that means that people think that at least every once in a while I have something meaningful to say!

Ultimately, this is not about the views, viewers, followers, etc. To be perfectly honest with you, most of my blogging is just me thinking out loud, processing through my fingers on the keyboard something that I read, saw or have been thinking about. Rarely do I look at the stats. In fact, until looking at them to make this post I cannot remember when I looked at them last. And the reality is, in the world in which we live, there will continue to be plenty of things for me to blog about for the foreseeable future. There have been probably five or six things today, in fact, and I have not even had much time to look around or see what’s in the news. So, for now anyway, I’ll keep on writing. It’s good therapy for me if nothing else. And, when you feel so inclined, I thank you for reading. If, from time to time, I give you something to think about, challenge your thinking a bit or expose you to something for the first time, that will be a plus. I do not get many comments, and that’s okay. I suspect that those bloggers who get comments by the dozens either stop reading them or get worn out by them anyway. Still, if you have a comment or a thought to share sometime, please do. I may just lead to another post!

June 3, 2015

Bruce Jenner Is Not A Hero

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 7:21 pm

This is articulate and thoughtfully written. I could not have said it better myself.

Illuminating Truth

I generally try to steer clear of controversial issues on here. Most are so deeply embedded in presuppositions that writing about them generally just generates more anger and frustration than meaningful discussion. However, I never want to shy away from speaking something that needs to be said even if I know it is not something people want to hear. So, I want to talk about Bruce Jenner.

Today, Bruce Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair, dressed as a woman and introducing himself to the world as “Caitlyn Jenner.” You see, he has decided that he is a woman and that by saying it and probably some very extensive surgery, he can make it so. In today’s world, we think gender is something we get to choose, like our career path or our clothes. So, people across the nation have lauded him as a hero. Certainly, this is the…

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February 3, 2015

Words

Filed under: Spiritual Growth,Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 10:12 pm
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Humbled though I am by the number of people who read my thoughts in this space, I do wonder, fairly often, if there is really any point. Nothing I may say here is going to change the world. While the number of readers may seem impressive to me at times, in the grand scheme of things they do not even reach the level of “a drop in the bucket.” Maybe, just maybe, a drop in the ocean. So does it really matter? Is there any point? I am still not sure, but I keep doing it. And if you’ll pardon my candor, I do it more for me than I do for you. Frankly, I find it therapeutic and good mental exercise. I like the way blogging makes me think through things more carefully and develop cogent arguments and support for my positions. I like that it makes me seriously consider “the other side.” Having said that, I should also mention that these posts are mostly stream-of-consciousness stuff. I do not outline what I will say, I do not read over it and I do not edit it. In occasion I will look back over something and catch a typo or a word I left out, and sometimes my wife will make me aware of the same, and in those instances I will make the correction. In nearly 350 posts here, though, I bet that has happened maybe ten times. So here is my disclaimer: these are not edited, are not polished, and should not be considered exemplars of great writing!

Now why did I say all of that? I said it because a column by Mindy Belz at the end of 2014 reminded me of the importance of words. Mrs. Belz, who writes a regular column and is also an editor of WORLD, no doubt sees all manner of words, from the good to the bad, the splendid to the sloppy, the crucial to the worthless. By her own admission, she receives more than ten thousand e-mails on any given day. Just the act of deleting all of the worthless ones would be a significant time killer! Combining that with the fact that she literally makers her living with words, Belz has a unique perspective on the importance and power of the written language. In her column, she wrote, “[T]he throng of a media-saturated world and the blare of nonstop information can seem more oppressive, more full of noisy gong and clanging cymbal than ever.” How true that is, and no wonder it caused me to reflect on whether there is really any point to all of these words I have posted here over the past few years.

“Scripture has plenty to say,” Belz wrote, “about how we communicate, and models a variety of forms. Recounting history and waxing poetic–even romantic–all have their place, along with harsh admonition and R-rated graphic details of real life in a fallen world. Sarcasm and humor? Those too. But the forms are formed and the point is: Have a point. Speak with purpose. In this day that might mean pausing to think what I hope to accomplish in 140 characters, rather than simply increasing my Twitter followers.”

As I said, this is mostly therapeutic for me, not any intention to increase followers. Still, I choose to get my therapy on a public stage rather than in a private journal, so I would be deluding myself and you if I pretended that I do not hope anyone reads what I write. I am thankful for those that do, and I hope, at least the majority of the time, you can see that I do have a point. If I do not, let me know. If I make a point that you do not think needs to be made, feel free to let me know that, too. Some of you have done that on occasion, and I appreciate it.

Belz ended her column with this: “Brevity isn’t boss, but it shows thoughtfulness. And whether you Facebook, Tweet, Gchat, or hit Slack, words fitly spoken and thoughts that connect are more to treasure than ever.” I do not even know what Gchat is or what “hit slack” means, so I am obviously not as “with it” as I could be. The words I share, though, need to be fitly spoken and need to connect to a purpose. I need to have a point. So, too, the time I use to share them needs to be used wisely, and I need to reflect on whether or not blogging is always the best use of my time.

And it took me nearly 800 words to say all of that…

January 15, 2015

My Year in Books – 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 11:13 pm
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Between all of the activities of the Christmas season and the busy-ness of starting the second semester, I have not posted anything in nearly a month! What better way to kick off a new year of blogging than by giving my annual overview of the books I read last year. As always, this will be a quick run-down, not an exhaustive review of any books. I was, once again, able to meet my goal of reading at least fifty books a year, finishing with fifty-seven.

The first book I finished in 2014 was Sarah Palin’s Glad Tidings and Great Joy. I was not entirely sure what to expect from this book, but I found it a pleasant read. Palin included a number of family stories, traditions and photos throughout the book (as well as a few recipes), intertwined amongst examples of the attack on Christianity in general and Christmas in particular around America. More than likely, anyone who likes Sarah Palin will like this book, and anyone who does not like Sarah Palin will not.

For the most part, I am going to break down the other books I read by genre rather than by date. R W Glenn’s Crucifying Morality was a short look at what the Beatitudes are really all about–and what they are not all about. Max Lucado’s 3:16 The Numbers of Hope and David Jeremiah’s God Loves You are both excellent looks at God’s love–and how incredible that love truly is. Lucado’s book is, of course, written in his usual style. Rebecca Friedlander’s The Potter and His Clay is a fascinating look into the biblical comparisons of God to a potter and us to the clay. Friedlander is a gifted potter and artist, and if you have the opportunity to see her live Potter’s Wheel presentation you should definitely avail yourself of the chance. Strange Fire, by John MacArthur, is a thorough examination of the charismatic movement and the many misinterpretations and outright abuses of Scripture that have characterized the movement through the years. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus is Nabeel Qureshi’s autobiographical account of how a devout follower of Islam came to accept Christ. For anyone interested in knowing more about what Islam teaches and the challenges associated with leading a Muslim to Christ would do well to read this book. Anthony Carter’s Blood Work is an examination of why the blood of Christ is so incredibly important and what it accomplished. Carter interweaves stanzas of classic hymns throughout. Christena Cleveland is social psychologist and college professor who wrote a thought-provoking look at the way Christians tend to segregate themselves within the body of Christ–for all kinds of reasons. Disunity in Christ is an excellent read, but do not read it if you have sensitive toes!

Darren Dochuk’s From the Bible Belt to Sunbelt is a study of how the evangelical movement in California was transplanted from the deep south. The book includes many names that will be familiar to believers, as well as details and contexts that likely are not so familiar. It also reveals that an incredible number of today’s hot-button issues are not new problems for the evangelical community. Douglas Bond’s The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts is a short, easy-to-read and fascinating look at the life of this prolific hymn writer. Lauren Drain’s Banished is an autobiographical account of her experiences as a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. The book often left me wondering “how can anyone believe that?” It is a truly sad commentary of what some people believe the Bible teaches.

Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Goldfinch is a monster of a book at 775 pages. And while there were a few times I found myself thinking she could have left out a few details without hurting the story any, I found the book a delightful read overall. As with many great works of fiction there are a few “twists of fate” that seem entirely too convenient and unlikely, but these are forgivable. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a difficult book to like yet worth reading. It is thought provoking, and in turns caused me to be angry, irritated and even sick, amidst other emotions. It is a book I would recommend, but selectively. It is certainly not for everyone. The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is a tale any booklover will enjoy and a classic telling of doomed love. Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale is an easy like for any bibliophile, and was an intriguing look into both the transforming power of romantic love and the incredible power of bitter rivalry. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is a well-crafted story about the healing power of true love of the non-romantic variety. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, provided some of the most well-written sentences I have read in a long time. The entire book is letters written between the tale’s characters–a unique approach that worked surprisingly well.

As I usually do, I also attempted to add a few “classics” to my have-read list. Jane Eyre was recommended by a colleague and I found myself liking it much more than I anticipated I would. There was one incredibly unlikely and unbelievable twist in the book that soured me a bit, but it was well worth reading. It could generate some very interesting discussions about marriage in a discussion group setting. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye would probably be my “Banned Book” for the year. I can see why parents would object to it being in a high school reading list, but it would surely prompt fascinating conversations about racial relations, both between races and within them. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is worthy of being a classic, and the story is all the more fascinating because of when it was written. Cry, the Beloved Country is a book I have read before, and it is still a book I will recommend to anyone who asks. While it contains some of the same unlikely twists that irked me in Jane Eyre, they are not nearly so irksome in Alan Paton’s classic work set in South Africa. The novel presents perseverance and forgiveness in a way seldom seen. I finally got around to reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, too. James McBride’s The Color of Water is another very interesting look into race relations, as well as an endearing glimpse into the love of son for mother. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a creative and captivating retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel, and I would recommend it. Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace was pure drudgery, and I would not recommend it.

In the contemporary fiction category I read Camron Wright’s The Rent Collector; A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash; The Absence of Mercy by John Burley; Be Careful What You Wish For–the latest installment of Jeffrey Archer’s Clifton Chronicles; David Baldacci’s The Target; James Patterson’s Private: LA, Invisible and Burn; Marcia Clark’s Guilt By Association; and John Grisham’s Gray Mountain.

In history, I read Lawrence Denton’s A Southern Star for Maryland, an interesting look at what was going on Maryland during the Civil War; Edward Behr’s Prohibition, an overview of that part of U.S. history; Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, a riveting account of the Chicago World’s Fair and a murderer preying on women in the city at the same time that reads like a novel; The Black Count by Tom Reiss, an incredible true-life account of Alex Dumas; John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Scientists; and Karen Abbott’s Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, an engaging look at four women who assumed roles in the Civil War far more often reserved for men.

George W. Bush’s 41 was an enjoyable read. It was not the book I had anticipated, but he politely warned me in the preface that it would not be. Captive in Iran, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh’s account of their time in Iran’s Evin Prison, is an incredible story.

There are a few I did not mention here, but I’m sure you’re ready to go do something else anyway. Check back next year to see where this year takes me!

November 4, 2014

What the Composer intended

The November/December issue of RELEVANT Magazine includes an essay by Michael Gungor entitled “Wrestling with Faith and Doubt.” If you read this blog regularly then you will recall that I took serious issue with Gungor back in September over comments he made about evolution and his suggestion in a Liturgist podcast that Jesus may have either been wrong or lied about Adam and Noah. I commend RELEVANT for giving Gungor the opportunity to explain himself and I commend Gungor for taking the opportunity to do so.

In his essay, he begins with the illustration of a symphony orchestra and the fact that some instruments, like the first chair violinist, may play hundreds of thousands of notes while a percussionist may play very few notes but must play them “at precisely the right time.” Gungor uses this to stress his point that “all effective groups contain both diversity and unity.” He even makes a thought provoking observation about the importance of diversity in obtaining unity, writing, “it is arguable that without diversity, there is no unity (only a much less effective uniformity).”

From here, Gungor proceeds into his observation that today “the Christendom that claims to follow Jesus is divided into tens of thousands of bickering sects and denominations, more splintered and fragmented than ever before.” In many ways this is true, and there are many issues over which Christians vehemently disagree which are not of eternal significance. There are many subjects on which the Bible is quiet, if not silent, providing only guiding principals to shape our beliefs and behaviors. When the Scripture is not explicit no one should hold dogmatically to the notion that their position is the right one; no one should claim or exert superiority over anyone else because they are convinced of their own right-ness on issues Christian liberty.

Gungor says that he thinks “a little healthy friction in a team is OK. … But friction and division are not the same thing. There is a big difference between ‘you’re not doing your job well enough!’ and ‘I’m not playing on the same team with him anymore!'” I agree with Gungor here, too. Friction can absolutely be a positive thing. I seek out differences of opinion and insights from others than I may not have ever considered. I believe that we reach the best decisions when we weigh a variety of options and possibilities in the process of deciding. I believe this, though, when there are not absolutes already provided. If we were to argue at the school where I serve that students did not need to learn geography or to take Algebra we may well be able to develop convincing arguments but it would not matter. We are an accredited school, required to ensure that students meet graduation requirements established by the state before we can grant a diploma. In other words, it matters not at all how strongly, passionately or convincingly we may be able to argue against geography or Algebra because it is not up for debate. It has already been decided for us.

Gungor transitions from his explanation on the merits of friction within a team to his argument that he has been unfairly treated, labeled and opposed since his comments on evolution and Jesus’ references to Adam and Noah. “In the last few months, I personally have been called a heretic, a blasphemer, a two-fold son of hell and a fool who is leading thousands to hell, in which I happen to have a special spot reserved for me.” His explanation of why he has been called these things is that he “like a lot of Christians” believes that God created humans by means of evolution. Gungor says that he has no problem with Christians disagreeing with him or even arguing passionately that he is wrong. His issue, he writes, is when those who disagree with him start using “words that are intended to break unity, loaded words like ‘apostate,’ ‘heretic,’ ‘false teacher,’ and so on.”

I’ll own it. I am one of those who referred to Gungor as a false teacher. Not only did I blog about it, I used his comments as the basis for an entire sermon I preached on the importance of contending for the faith, defending the inerrancy of Scripture and rejecting the subtle but deadly false teaching that can easily slip in when we open our hearts and minds to “differences of opinion.” I did not do any of that, however, because Gungor believes in evolution. I think evolution is wrong and is contrary to Scripture and I think teaching it as truth is false teaching. But I took issue with Gungor because he suggested that Jesus either was wrong or knowingly lied, and, on top of that, said he wouldn’t be “freaked out” if that were the case. The problem is, if Jesus was either wrong or knowingly lied then the entire foundation of Scripture and Christianity is demolished. If you want to read more on that, check out my blog post of September 10.

Gungor goes on to explain that the early church used words like “apostate” and “false teacher” to refer to those who preached things such as Christ never coming in the flesh, but not to refer to those who “merely had differing interpretations of Scripture.” “Even in disagreements about significant doctrinal issues such as ‘Should we follow the law anymore?’ the early Christians maintained unity,” Gungor writes. I am not sure what Bible Gungor is reading, though, because he must have somehow missed Galatians. Paul addresses those who were teaching a continued adherence to the Old Testament law is very harsh terms. There were those who were teaching that salvation required following the law, including circumcision. In Galatians 1:6 Paul calls this “a different gospel,” continuing in verse 7 with, “not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” In verse 8 Paul says that if anyone, even an angel from heaven, preached anything contrary to the gospel message being preached by Paul, that person should “be accursed.” So strongly does Paul feel about this, so important to is the identification and rejection of false teaching, that Paul reiterates this in verse 9: “As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Paul reinforces throughout the letter that teaching adherence to the law is false teaching.

Gungor then reverts back to his orchestra illustration, suggesting that by dividing over things like Gungor’s statements on evolution and Jesus’ statements about Adam and Noah is akin to a situation in which “every single player in the orchestra has gone off into her own corner, playing her part to whatever tempo she deems best in the moment. And what we have as a result is a din of clamorous noise–a series of competing factions, each trying to prove they are more right about the musical score than the others.” While this is no doubt the case at times, it is not the case with the reaction of myself and others to Gungor’s position. When Gungor suggested that Jesus may have been wrong about Adam and Noah or may simply have lied because his audience believed something that was not true and it was more convenient for him to let them believe that he was the one insisting that he was “more right about the musical score than the others.” Indeed, he was creating his own score! To his original point, there is indeed a difference between saying someone in the orchestra is not playing their part right and saying you will not play with that person anymore. The reality is that Gungor’s position is the equivalent of demanding the orchestra allow him to play a different piece of music than the rest of the group is playing, to acknowledge that he has the freedom and liberty to do so and that his playing his piece while they play the score the composer wrote is both acceptable and harmonious. This is patently absurd.

Gungor ends his essay by suggesting that the ultimate goal of the Christian is found in Matthew 26–which is true. What he fails to understand is that we are neither loving God nor our neighbor when we allow false teaching to go unchallenged. To suggest that we show love to Gungor by letting him hold to–and spread–his false interpretations of Scripture is the equivalent of suggesting that it would be loving for a parent to allow a toddler to stick a fork into an electrical socket simply because the child thinks it would be fun. The parent knows the danger involved and the damage that would result, meaning that the only loving course of action is to stop the child from his intended action and to teach him, sternly if necessary, not to pursue such behavior in the future. We are not loving Michael Gungor to suggest that his beliefs on this matter are acceptable or merely a difference of interpretation on an issue of liberty. We are not loving anyone else by allowing them to be exposed to Gungor’s position without warning them that it is wrong and dangerous. I hope and pray that Michael Gungor comes to see the error of his ways. Until then, however, I will continue to call his position what it is–false teaching. Because, contrary to what Gungor thinks, that is what the Composer intended.

September 10, 2014

Contend for the Faith

Last week World Net Daily ran an article entitled “‘Christian’ singer: Jesus may have lied about Adam, Noah.” This article looked at comments made by singer Michael Gungor, lead singer of the worship band Gungor, in an episode of The Liturgist podcast posted on August 12. In that episode, titled “Genesis & Evolution,” and which you can listen to here, Gungor suggests that Jesus may have been wrong when He discussed Adam and Noah, or possibly even intentionally lied in order to accommodate His audience.

That’s a troubling thought to say the least, so let me allow Gungor to speak for himself: “Even if Jesus knew that Noah and Adam were mythical, but knew He was talking to people who thought they were real, that’s another possibility. Jesus was just referring to a story he was part of to these Jewish people that know that story.” You read that right, and that is an unedited quote from the podcast. Gungor is suggesting that Jesus may have knowingly referred to Noah or Adam as real people even though He knew they were not. Perhaps even more troubling than that is that Gungor also said in the interview that Jesus may have legitimately believed that Adam and Noah were real people and was wrong. Said Gungor: “And even if He was wrong, even if He did believe that Noah was a historical person, or Adam was a historical person, and ended up being wrong, I don’t understand how that even would deny the divinity of Christ.” Gungor also said in the podcast, “It wouldn’t freak me out if He was wrong about it.”

There is plenty in the above paragraph to raise serious concern among Christians. First, to suggest that Jesus may have lied is a serious red flag for a professing Christian to make. If Jesus did lie then Jesus sinned. If Jesus sinned, then He was not a perfect sacrifice. If He was not a perfect sacrifice, then He could not pay the penalty for your sins or mine or anyone else’s–including His own. If He could not, and therefore did not, pay the penalty for sins then no one who has professed and accepted Christ as Savior is truly saved because the one in whom they have placed their trust was incapable of saving them! Suggesting that Jesus lied is to completely contradict all of Scripture and the entire basis of Christian belief. In other words, this is no small matter.

Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is a well-known verse, and understandably so since it reveals our need for a Savior. But if this verse is true then what Gungor is saying, whether he intended to or not, is that Jesus, too, fell short of the glory of God. Look at the full context of Romans 3:23, by reading verses 21-26 (from the ESV):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

If Jesus sinned, and therefore fell short of the glory of God, He could not justify Himself, let alone anyone else (verse 24), meaning no one could have redemption in Christ Jesus (verse 24), God could not have “put [Him] forward as a propitiation” for our sins (verse 25) because a sinner would be unable to provide propitiation (atonement) for sins. As a result, Jesus could not be the justifier (verse 26) and no one who received Him by faith could be just (verses 25 and 26).

Now, even if we deny the possibility that Jesus lied, Gungor’s other option is also troubling–the idea that Jesus was wrong. While Jesus was fully human, He was also fully God at the same time, and therefore incapable of being wrong. If it were possible for Jesus to be wrong in holding that Adam and Noah were real people, it would necessarily be possible for Jesus to be wrong about other things, too. No small part of the reason why we can have such faith in God is that He is never wrong; He is incapable of being wrong. If Jesus was wrong, then Jesus was not omniscient; since Jesus and God (and the Holy Spirit) are one, if Jesus is not omniscient then God cannot be either. The little string that Gungor has pulled will unravel the entire Bible and all of Christianity; it is not a little matter!

Gungor states that when the Bible and science contradict, the Bible must be wrong: “[F]for thousands of years or at least hundreds of years, people in Christian history have been saying things like hey, you can’t try to read the Bible as a science book when science conflicts with the Bible and your reading of the Bible.” He continued, “Re-read the Bible. Change that, because you’re probably the one that’s wrong; and if you don’t do that you’re gonna look like an idiot. … The church made pretty big mistakes in the past … thinking the world was flat.”

The problems here are many, as well. First, the Bible and science do not contradict. Man’s interpretation of science, or man’s purported understanding of science, can contradict Scripture, but that is a different animal altogether. Second, if we start to put our beliefs in science, or data, or, more importantly, man’s understanding of those things, then we throw open the door for all kinds of reinterpreting of Scripture. These kinds of arguments have led to many beliefs that are simply not compatible with Scripture, from justification for abortion to the idea that homosexuals are “born that way.” Third, there is a difference between making a mistake and contradicting the Bible. Even if there were members of the church, or even the Church as a whole, who held at one point that the earth was flat, that is not even close to being the same thing. No where does the Bible specifically state that the world is round, for one thing. For another, that the earth is round is verifiable and observable. Evolution–even theistic evolution, which Gungor believes–is neither verifiable nor observable.

On September 1 Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis addressed this matter in his blog on answersingenesis.org. In it he included this statement: “Sadly, it appears that Gungor has adopted the idea that holding to the inerrancy of Scripture is treating the Bible as an idol. You see, in response to a recent Facebook comment about my views, Gungor wrote, ‘There is a trend in modern society, no more than a trend . . . a religion, an idolatry that elevates Scripture above Jesus.'” Ham’s blog included an image of the Twitter discussion that included this statement from Gungor. This is another troubling comment and provides alarming insight into Gungor’s “faith.” The Bible is how we know Jesus. Scripture itself refers to Jesus as “the Word.” John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:3, by the way, states, “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.” That would seem to be a solid counter to Gungor’s position on theistic evolution). I really do not comprehend the notion of elevating Scripture above Jesus; we know Jesus through Scripture and Jesus Himself quoted Scripture.

Ham correctly writes, “Michael Gungor has an influence on the youth of this generation and will lead them astray with such views.” Others agree with Ham, and are acting on those concerns; the World Net article includes this statement: “Gungor’s views have already cost him among fans, as at least one church canceled a concert, and a Wisconsin radio station removed itself from an event featuring Gungor, saying it ‘cannot be a party to introducing more doubt into the hearts and minds of young Christians already being fed doubt and lies by the world.'”

This is an excellent reminder of the needs for Christians to be discerning. Not everything or everyone who claims to be a Christian believes, teaches or promotes the Truth of Scripture. While Gungor may have written and/or may perform beautiful songs, his very public position on this issue necessitates that he be treated as an unbeliever, one in need of being reached with the message of the gospel. Gungor said that those who deny evolution will end up looking like idiots. I’m afraid that, if adhering to the dictionary definition of the word, it is Mr. Gungor who looks like an idiot. According to dictionary.com an idiot is “an utterly foolish or senseless person.” Foolish is an adjective that is defined as “resulting from or showing a lack of sense; ill-considered; unwise” or “lacking forethought or caution.” To suggest that Jesus Christ either was wrong in His understanding of the Old Testament or that He knowingly lied to audiences during His time on earth is nothing short of lacking sense and it is certainly unwise. Saying Jesus could have lied definitely comes with a real lack of caution.

Proverbs 14:7-8 says, “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.” We are not meeting words of knowledge from Mr. Gungor and his folly will undoubtedly confuse or lead astray many of his fans and followers. Gungor’s statements cause me to feel like Jude must have when he wrote his short but powerful letter. In verse 3 he says, “I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” We must contend for the faith, take a stand for the truth, in the face of Gungor’s foolish words. And we should pray for Michael Gungor.

April 28, 2014

Much Appreciated

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 8:02 pm
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One of the “five love languages” famously developed by Dr. Gary Chapman is “words of affirmation.” This “love language” communicates love to others through words–words that encourage, edify, affirm, compliment, congratulate, thank… You get the idea. For whatever reason (really, I don’t know) I have had several people ask lately (either my wife or me) what my love language is. Interestingly enough, I don’t know. I have read several of Chapman’s books, I have taken the love language inventories…and I know what love language I most like to use (giving gifts, in case you’re wondering), but I am not sure what love language I most prefer to have “spoken” to me. The tests haven’t helped me any, either. I could probably spend a fair amount of time trying to analyze that but that isn’t really the purpose of this post (plus, I doubt you really care!)

More than one person has suggested that my love language must be words of affirmation. Why? Because, they say, I use it well. I have developed a habit of sorts of writing little notes of encouragement to people from time to time. Ironically, perhaps, that is not because I crave words of affirmation. In fact, the fact that I receive any commendation for using them is the result of an intentional effort on my part to use them (and I’m still better at doing so in writing than verbally, though I’m striving to improve in that regard, too). I do not remember receiving many words of affirmation growing up and I do not remember ever really feeling like I needed words of affirmation. At the same time, I have the Type-A tendency to spot things that could be improved or that have not been done well. I am far more likely to comment on areas in need of improvement than I am on areas of commendation. So I have made a point to be more complimentary, more positive, more encouraging. I still don’t feel like I need words of affirmation myself, though.

However, I have also found that I do appreciate them. Twice in recent weeks I have been reminded that even if I do not need them, I am encouraged by them when they come along. Last week a former student e-mailed me with a letter attached to his message that he had addressed to the faculty and staff of the school where I serve. He asked me to share it with everyone. In the letter he said that one of his professors had recently mentioned how encouraging letters of appreciation from former students can be to teachers, so this student decided to take the time to write such a letter to his former teachers. It was a welcome discovery to find it in my e-mail and I know that it was an encouragement to many people.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with a current high school junior. She had initiated the conversation and at one point she told me that she wanted me to know that she really respects me. She followed that up by saying, “I know that probably doesn’t mean much coming from a teenager but I do.” I had to tell her that, on the contrary, it means a great deal coming from a teenager. It meant a lot to me for two reasons. One, many teenagers tend not to have a whole lot of deeply-held respect for most adults, so when one does, and takes the time to express it, that is huge. Two, I have found that teenagers are really very good at seeing through any facades we may try to put up and to see us adults for who we really are–especially if we spend much time with them. So for this young lady to both see something worth respecting and to take the time to share it meant a great deal to me and I told her that I appreciated her telling me that.

So I’m really just sharing with you a personal lesson that I have learned…and am learning. Whether I need them or not, whether it is the love language with which I am most comfortable or not, words of affirmation do go a long way. Maybe they are just words…but those words can be the boost someone needs to keep going, the encouragement they need when they are down, the confirmation they need when they are doubting… Words may not cost us anything, but they sure do have value.

January 9, 2014

My Year in Books – 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 5:48 pm
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I managed to keep my streak of reading fifty books per year intact in 2013, though I am not sure I would have done so had my wife not been hospitalized for sixteen days; I read ten books during that time! Given that I took two graduate classes during the summer of 2103 and traveled some 7,500 miles by car during my family’s two summer trips and read very little during that time I was prepared to excuse my falling short of the goal. I am glad I met the goal, though I would have preferred it to have been met in a different manner. But, without further ado, here is an overview of the fifty two books I read in 2013.

I think it’s fun to start my list with the first book I finished during the year. However, due to a computer crash suffered in the spring, the exact order of the first fourteen books I read is not known. Due to the fact that I am out in desperate need of more book shelves in my house and therefore stack most of the books in a pile as I read them these days, I do know what the fourteen books were, but I cannot guarantee the order. That’s because one of the books was loaned from a colleague and one or two others were already on a shelf and I put them back when I completed them. So, I will present my overview more by genre than by chronological order.

Let’s start with non-fiction, history. Ernest Grafe and Paul Horsted’s Exploring with Custer: The 1874 Black Hills Expedition is a fascinating book in that it provides a detailed overview of the 1874 expedition, including many first person and primary source accounts and photographs, but also provides contemporary photographs of the exact same spots and directions to get there. The result is that you could literally retrace Custer’s expedition yourself if you wanted to do so. I also read Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand. As Philbrick books go I liked it better than Bunker Hill and probably almost as much as Mayflower. It is a readable overview of the events leading up to, and including, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, including first person perspectives from both sides of that battle. If you have an interest in Custer personally or the conflict with Native Americans in general it is a good read. I also read Bunker Hill in 2013, by the way, and despite the fact that the American Revolution is perhaps the part of U.S. history that fascinates me most, and I even enjoy historical minutiae, I did not particularly enjoy this book. Though the specific reasons slip my mind at the moment I remember finding the book hard to get through and less than interesting in many parts. I can say the same thing for Kevin Phillips’ 1775. It was a book that I might not have even finished were it not for my conviction to never let a book beat me!

For those of you caught up in the international smash hit Downton Abbey you may enjoy reading Lady Fiona of Carnarvon’s Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey. I read it when my wife had finished it, and given that Lady Fiona is the current occupant of Highclere Castle (the setting of the show) she has access to a treasure trove of original documents and photographs. It was an interesting read, and she has a second book out now, continuing the exploration of the history of the castle and the families that have lived there. Another book I read that drew extensively from original documents and photographs was also loaned from a friend. E.M. Young: Prairie Pioneer tells the incredible story of one man’s pioneering farming experiences in the early 20th century.

I read David Montgomery’s The Rocks Don’t Lie in 2013, too, but I reviewed that at length in an earlier post, so I will not elaborate on it here.

I also read several biographies and autobiographies. Tony Bennett’s Life is a Gift is a fascinating look at his artistic life. Even if you do not particularly like Bennett (who I just realized, incidentally, I am listening to at the moment) his first-hand accounts of such now-hard-to-fathom incidents like seeing incredible and well known African American artists perform in clubs that they could not enter as patrons provide a unique perspective on that sad part of American history. David Green’s More Than A Hobby tells the story of the development of the Hobby Lobby juggernaut and the philosophies that have driven the Green family in its development. The book was written long before Hobby Lobby’s run in with the federal government over the contraceptive mandate but reading it leaves a good understanding of why the family would have challenged in the way that they did. Gracia Burnham’s books In the Presence of My Enemies and To Fly Again recount the experience of being taken hostage in the Philippines, the incredible ordeal she and her husband endured in their year-plus of captivity, and his death during the rescue (the first one) and the way in which her life has “moved on” since returning to the states and recovering from her injuries (including being short herself). Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis will no doubt leave you overwhelmed at the incredible things this young woman has done already to impact hundreds of lives in Uganda. The way in which the Lord has used her and the things that she has accomplished, and is doing, as a single young white woman in Africa will certainly prompt you to learn more about her Amazima Ministries, if not prompt you to take some action yourself! John Ownes’ Confessions of a Bad Teacher recounts the experiences of this publishing executive who decided to leave his skyscraper office to become a teacher in New York City. The book highlights the challenges faced by teachers everywhere when parents are absent or uninvolved but, even moreso, highlights the challenges teachers face when their administrators do not have the first clue about how what may seem like grand ideas or necessary policies actually play out in the classroom, and the challenges faced by teachers, students and parents alike when administrators are more concerned about rules than about students actually learning. The scenario Owens presents is not common, in my opinion, but he highlights important realities nonetheless. Finally, Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala provides a vivid first-person account of the realities of living in a region controlled by the Taliban and how incredibly repressive many of their rules are. That Malala survived when she was shot in the face is amazing, and she is an articulate advocate for education.

I actually read quite a bit of fiction in 2013. I made a conscious decision to read mostly fiction while my wife was in the hospital because I did not really feel like having to think too much! I also decided, thanks to the local library and the convenient proximity of a Barnes and Noble to the hospital, to read some authors I had never read before. So, by way of new-to-me authors, I read Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller, which I found to be a fascinating story and one that deals intriguingly with the question of forgiveness–what it is, who can give it, and more. There were parts of Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief that I did not really care for or find necessary to the story, but in the end Zusak succeeds in presenting a very different kind of hero than is often seen in literature. Elliott Holt’s You Are One of Them was an interesting tale with an interesting perspective on Cold War U.S.-Soviet relations, from the perspectives of children becoming teenagers. Alafair Burke’s If You were Here has some nifty plot twists in it. While I have watched the show based on her books I had never read Tess Gerritsen until I read Rizzoli and Isles: Last to Die. Being familiar with a television version of characters before reading a book can have the same influence on the reader as being familiar with the book before seeing the movie or show can have on the viewer, but it was a good story overall. More than a few parts seemed a bit far-fetched but it is fiction, after all. I loved Mark Pryor’s The Bookseller, and I look forward to reading more of his Hugo Marston novels. Jonathan Cahn’s The Harbinger was given to me by a friend; it is not the kind of book I likely would have read on my own. It presented some interesting things, but it is correctly placed in the fiction section of bookstores. Chevy Steven’s Still Missing presents a graphic look at how we humans in our sin nature can get focused on things that really matter not at all and, as a result of that focus, can cause us to do things that no one in his or her right mind would ever even give a second thought. I also read two Robert Crais books, Taken and The First Rule. These are mostly typical crime drama/suspense books similar to many other authors.

My fiction reading was not limited to new-to-me authors, though. I read several books by those authors I tend to keep up with, too, including the following: Merry Christmas, Alex Cross; Alex Cross, Run; Private Berlin; NYPD Red; and Cross My Heart by James Patterson; The Racketeer, Theodore Boone: The Activist, and Sycamore Row by John Grisham; The Forgotten, The Hit, and King and Maxwell by David Baldacci; Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer; and Threat Vector and Command Authority by Tom Clancy (with Mark Greaney). Clancy’s death late in the year means, I assume, that there will be no more true Clancy books (though there is always the possibility that he left behind some manuscripts) but I suspect it will not mean the end of Jack Ryan or The Campus.

Finally, in the area of spiritual growth, I read Jacqueline Pierre’s Totally Infatuated, a short book aimed mostly at teens (and Pierre is still a teen herself) highlighting the relevance of Scripture to our everyday lives; R.C. Sproul’s A Taste of Heaven and The Work of Christ; R. Albert Mohler’s Desire and Deceit (which I have also referenced in earlier posts); Joe Stowell’s Following Christ; John Piper’s God Is the Gospel, and Matt Chandler’s To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain. All of these books are very good and depending on where you are in walk with the Lord, what you want to focus on or dig deeper into may or may not be what you “need” right now, but Stowell’s book would be relevant and practical for any Christian at any stage of their Christian walk, I think.

So, there you have it, a quick run through of my year in books. Until next January…keep reading!

January 8, 2014

Back in the Saddle

Filed under: Uncategorized — jbwatson @ 11:02 pm

Well, another unplanned hiatus from blogging has come and, now, gone. I have not posted anything in more than six weeks, the longest drought since I started blogging more than two years ago. That is not because I have decided not to blog anymore. In fact, if there was a “thought-to-text” capability I could have posted lots of times and about lots of things. Just think about all of the “stuff” that has happened in the last six weeks that I could have waxed eloquent about! Don’t worry, though, I haven’t accumulated a six-week mass of posts to dump on you. No, you’ll just have to spend the rest of your life wondering what I thought about the staged sign language interpreter at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, among other things. If I have a New Year’s resolution, though, it is to post at least 150 times in 2014, so you have plenty to look forward to in coming months.

So where have I been for six weeks, you ask? Well, more than two of those weeks were spent in a hospital. I was perfectly fine, but my wife had a cancerous mass removed. I learned a few things during that time, not least of which is that (1) there are some excellent nurses and doctors “out there” and (2) you can get extremely tired doing nothing but sitting in a hospital room all day! (Oh, and most of the things you have heard about hospital food are, well, true). Praise the Lord my wife is doing very well and the surgery appears to have been completely successful. After that it was a hectic few weeks getting caught up at work with the end of the semester and the activities of the Christmas season, then it was Christmas break, and then it was the start of the second semester. Now, other than the fact that I managed to get sick just before the semester resumed, things seem to be pretty much back to normal. That means, hopefully, that I will be posting regularly for the foreseeable future. I did not say daily, mind you, but regularly. And I have plenty to say! But I’ll start, next time, with my annual review of the books I read in the last year.

Thanks for coming back after my unscheduled absence… See you next time.

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