Wednesday, January 04, 2017

DB2017: New Beginnings

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If you've been following the blog much in the last year, you know I've been working my way through a daily devotional based on the writings of George MacDonald, Consuming Fire: The Inexorable Power of God's Love. Well, I finished the book last week, and I enjoyed it so much that now, with the new year, I'm starting a new daily reader: I Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily Devotions, taken from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

If you aren't familiar with Bonhoeffer, he was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian in the 20th century (1906-1945) who was eventually executed by the Nazis for his work to oppose Adolf Hitler. Many of his writings have become classics in the decades since his death, like his book The Cost of Discipleship: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die..."

I want to begin the new year on the blog by sharing one of the first readings in I Want to Live These Days with You. Even in Bonhoeffer's day, folks saw the new year as a chance to start over, to do things differently than they did the year before. But he asked,
How can we make a fresh start? "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back..." (Luke 9:62). One who guides a plow does not look back - or into the immense distance - but to the next step that must be taken. Backward glances are not a Christian thing to do. Leave fear, anxiety, and guilt behind. And look to the one who gives you a new beginning.
Bonhoeffer doesn't believe we can carve new beginnings out of our regrets, our guilt, or even our good intentions. Instead, we should look for our new beginnings from the Lord, like David asking God to put a new and right spirit within him (Ps 51:10). We can't let the past control who we are or who we can become with God's help. Obviously, sometimes moving forward does mean making amends for old wrongs or trying to heal relationships that have been broken for a long time, but we shouldn't let the past weigh us down, because in Christ "The old life is gone; the new life has begun!" (2 Cor 5:17 NLT)

When you decide to make a change, whether it's a New Year's resolution or just a Wednesday morning resolution, don't let your mistakes or shame drive you. Let your hope and trust in God propel you forward, because all our "new beginnings" are a chance to embrace the new life God has for us, the transformation the Holy Spirit can work within us.

And for big change, maybe we need to think small: about the next step that must be taken, and then the step after that, then the step after that. Instead of being discouraged when we don't see a miraculous, instant make-over for our heart or our habits, maybe we need to seek after (and acknowledge and give thanks for!) the small miracles, the little changes that God creates in us along the road on our journey of faith. If we take it one step at a time, we may come to realize that God has been slowly, incrementally turning our lives upside down. The Spirit may be quietly working right under your nose to give you a new beginning.

Friday, December 23, 2016

how to keep Christ in your Christmas

Lately I've noticed a lot of folks at church are wearing little silicone wristbands that say "Keep Christ in Christmas." Tis the season, I guess. And of course I agree (I'm a preacher, after all): Jesus needs to be the heartbeat of the holiday.

But a lot of times I disagree with people about what that should look like.

It seems like, most of the time, when Christians talk about people 'taking Christ out of Christmas', they're talking about other people. Schools, stores, government offices. They're trying to remove the reason for the season, leaving us with a happy holiday that's just a shell of the Christmas God wants from us.

But me, I don't think it's Walmart's job or City Hall's job or even the schools' job to celebrate the birth of our Lord.

That's my job.

If you're a Christian, it's your job.

It all starts with us. If we want to keep Christ in Christmas, we need to take Jesus' advise and quit poking around for splinters in our neighbors' eyes while we've got a log jammed in our own (Matt 7:3-5). Christians need to quit focusing on how others are doing Christmas wrong and start focusing on how we can do Christmas right. We need the humility and the courage to ask: what can I do differently, to really make this season about Jesus?

Because there are going to be things all of us can do differently.

Maybe, instead of watching A Christmas Story for the third time in two days, we could pick up the phone and call that brother, that sister, that cousin we haven't spoken to in years, because we've been holding on to a grudge or refusing to admit we were wrong.

Maybe, instead of buying our kid or our spouse another gift and teaching them that this holiday is all about stuff, we could give that money to the battered women's shelter, Habitat for Humanity, or ZOE, to bless people in ways that will last longer than a new toy or shoes.

Or maybe, rather than take that vacation to the Bahamas you could give that waitress who's eight months pregnant a $900 tip, to help her get through the months ahead, when she's out of work, and to show her what the extravagant, sacrificial love of God looks like.

Because—let's be honest—most of us treat Christmas like it's our birthday. How might we celebrate the holiday if we treated it like Jesus' birthday instead?

If the world saw Christians celebrating Christmas like that, in ways that glorified God and made Jesus smile, maybe the Holy Spirit would have room to work in people's hearts, and—who knows?—next year they may be wishing everyone a merry Christmas too.

And this year we all have a special opportunity to focus on Jesus, because this year Christmas falls on a Sunday. Which means we can go to church. On Christmas.
I know that will sound like a bizarre thing to do on Christmas morning to a lot of people, a lot of Christians even, but if we won't let worshipping Jesus "interrupt" the gifts and food and family, then we're the ones taking Christ out of Christmas. I think the Babylon Bee (a Christian satire news website) captured it pretty well when they titled one article, "Church Honors Birth Of Jesus By Canceling Worship Service." This is your chance to show the world what this holiday is really all about. This is your chance to show your kids and your family that Christmas is about Jesus.

Or, we could blow off worship this Sunday and focus instead on... well, whatever it is that really matters the most to us at Christmas.

I'm not trying to guilt-trip anyone here, but I also don't care to mince words. I don't begrudge people whose Christmas celebrations aren't really about Jesus, but I do expect Christians to put their money where their mouth is. I'm a preacher, after all. And so I hope believers will take stock this Christmas. I hope we'll take a good, long look in the mirror and see what our holidays practices say about the reason for the season.
So if you're going to be on the road, watch for a church to stop at on the drive. If you're at some resort, cooped up, away from civilization, find an old Bible and read Luke 2 with your family, pray for those who need good news of great joy today. If  you're at home, catch a service. Wherever you are, find a way to worship this Sunday.

Find a way to keep Christ in your Christmas.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

for your consideration: ZOE

As the weather gets cold around the holidays, people's hearts seem to get warmer, and a lot of folks are looking for ways to reach out and bless someone in need this time of year - giving to the Salvation Army outside the grocery store, providing gifts for kids through Angel Trees or Toys for Tots, checking out a Heifer International catalog for a way to touch lives around the globe. I love that Christmas still has the power to inspire us like that.

Well, while people are thinking about helping those less fortunate than themselves this year, I wanted to draw your attention to a ministry that does just that, and does it more effectively and powerfully than any other group like it that I know of. Allow me to introduce you to ZOE.


ZOE began as a mission of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. I first heard about their work when I took at class at Duke with Dr. Laceye Warner, whose husband, Gaston, is the CEO of ZOE. He gave a lecture on international relief work, and it was obvious then that what they were doing was something special.

They describe their task as "helping children help themselves," and their strategy for helping is communal, long-term, and self-sustaining.
ZOE's model for ministry developed after a Rwandan woman named Epiphanie Mujawimana told them about the effects of other well-meaning ministries and aid organizations: "my people became so good at receiving that they forgot how to do anything. When a grant was completed, or focus shifted to a new area, my people were left worse off than before because they had learned to be dependent." She inspired ZOE to pursue a new goal: relief work where people learned to be independent.

What developed was a three-year empowerment plan that take children from poverty to self-sufficiency. ZOE's website explains:
The program brought orphans and vulnerable children together in mutually supportive working groups. Social workers worked with these children, teaching them skills and providing them with the resources they needed to begin to care for themselves... for real change to occur, all of the challenges holding these children in poverty must be addressed simultaneously: food security, disease prevention, housing, income generation, vocational training, child rights, community reintegration, connection to God, and education. When these were all addressed at the same time, the results were both quick and life-changing.
Unlike some other programs, where you support a child regularly (say, monthly) until they age out, this program spends three years getting the kids started, teaching and equipping them to support themselves and each other, so that when the three years are up, they will never need charity again. Today, over 33,000 children around the world are beginning new lives with ZOE's help.

See the results for yourself! Below you can watch the story of a girl named Cecelia who received vocational training and start-up supplies through ZOE. I hope that her story, and the story of the little boy born in poverty in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago who would save the world, will inspire you to support this worthy ministry.

 
To find out more or give online, visit zoehelps.org. You can also give online through United Methodist Global Ministries.

Monday, November 07, 2016

What Would Jesus Share?


One of my professors from seminary, Sam Wells, compares living faithfully to doing improv. That's because, he says, "we face new circumstances in each generation that the Bible doesn't give us a script for." There's no eleventh commandment about how to vote, online pornography, carbon footprints, or even gambling. The direct commands in scripture just don't always speak directly to our day-to-day struggles following Jesus in the 21st century. So we have to take what we do know, take how our faith has shaped us, and then improvise when the world presents us with new challenges.

Well, I believe one of those new challenges for Christians in America has become painfully clear over the course of this election season.
Brian Stelter wrote a short piece for CNNMoney last week that everyone should read, called "The plague of fake news is getting worse -- here's how to protect yourself."

Fake news?

Stelter explains:
The rise of social media has had many upsides, but one downside has been the spread of misinformation. Fake news has become a plague on the Web, especially on social networks like Facebook.
Have you ever seen someone share a link with a title like "Trump's Worst Nightmare Just Came True..." or "Hillary's Campaign Will Be Over When This Video Goes VIRAL"? That kind of stuff is circulated on social media constantly (it's on my Facebook news feed, and I doubt I'm special). It's called "clickbait." These are sensational headlines designed to draw in web traffic to increase a site's advertising revenue.
But often these articles go beyond outrageous, exaggerated titles. Have you seen the article about Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump for President? Or how about the one about Pope Francis endorsing Hillary Clinton for President? I've seen both. Both of them are totally falsethe pope doesn't endorse political candidatesbut both of them were nevertheless shared widely on social media as if they were true.

Fake news.

And that wasn't a fluke. Just last week Sean Hannity, who works for an actual news station, had to apologize after he read a fake news article on his live radio show (I understand he got it off of Twitter). That's how wide-spread this problem is.

Stelter again:
But the B.S. stories hurt the people who read and share them over and over again. Many of these fakes reinforce the views of conservative or liberal voters and insulate them from the truth. The stories prey on people who want to believe the worst about the opposition. [emphasis added]
Sure, lying is bad, but this is the heart of the problem: these fake stories only tell us what our "itching ears" want to hear, not the truth. As social media users imbibe more and more of this as if it were true, it reinforces their prejudices and shapes their opinions and even their worldview, and it can then have real-world ramifications that materially affect other people: friends have an argument; someone buys another gun; a business is boycotted; a vote is cast. All influenced by lies.

The solution is pretty simple: verify that a story is true before you pass it along. Stelter's advice is to "triple check before you share." All it takes is a quick Google search to substantiate a story (or not). If you can find it being reported by a legitimate news outlet (NBC, FOX, CNN, The New York Times, etc.), then it's safe to share.
Yet, we don't do that, either because we aren't aware of the lies, or we're too lazyor we just don't care.

But Christians have to care.

Because we're commanded not to bear false witness (Ex 20:16).

Because we're called to put away falsehood and speak the truth to our neighbors (Eph 4:25).

Because we worship a man who said, "I am the truth" (John 14:6).

And because the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). When Christians participate in all of this, when we don't take thirty seconds to check a source or verify a quotation, we're doing the devil's work for him. We not only deceive people, but, as Stelter pointed out, we appeal to a person's urge to believe the worst about others, to denigrate and vilify and pour scorn on her opponents. The devil's been called "the deceiver of the whole world" (Rev 12:9), and, with job title like that, mass communication and social media must come in pretty handy. Also, it probably helps when God's people volunteer to spread falsehoods for you, which is what happens every time we share a fake news article, post a meme with a fabricated quotation, or retweet made-up statistics.

I've seen pastors perpetuate political lies on Facebook and leave them up even after they're proven false. There's no way around it: that's a snare of the devil. And, again, these lies can have real effects on real people in the real world.

I can't speak to the situations in other nations, but for Christians in America the internet is the new frontier of discipleship. We have to learn how to follow Jesus onlinein the obvious ways, like staying away from pornography, and in the less obvious ways, like fighting the temptations to troll, to shoot off emails in the heat of the moment, to indulge in impulsive spending, or to thoughtlessly spread lies in news's clothing.
This is when believers need to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16), because these traps are as abundant as they are novel. Thankfully, the example of Jesus and the teachings of scripture are more than rich enough to equip us to face these new challenges. If we recognize the dangers and seek wisdom from above, looking to Jesus and letting scripture correct and train our speech and conduct, the Spirit can guide us through the ethical minefield.

But right now, we've got work to do. Because, from what I'm seeing, wise and innocent we are not.

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If you want to learn more about the epidemic of false and misleading "news" on social media, you can read this article from BuzzFeed.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

GM2016: Saved from sin

George MacDonald
As many of you know, I've been working through a daily devotional this year called Consuming Fire: The Inexorable Power of God's Love, with readings taken from the sermons of a Scottish preacher and author named George MacDonald (1824-1905). My Dad, who is a life-long MacDonald reader, gave me the book last Christmas, and he recently admitted that the main reason he got this for my brother and me was the section we're in now, taken from a classic sermon called "Justice." I'm sure Dad will be thrilled to know I've been really enjoying these readings.

I wanted to share one section that particularly reverberated with me:
The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sins is a false, mean, low notion. The salvation of Christ is salvation from the smallest tendency or leaning to sin. It is a deliverance into the pure air of God's ways of thinking and feeling. It is a salvation that makes the heart pure, with the will and choice of the heart to be pure. To such a heart, sin is disgusting. It sees a thing as it isthat is, as God sees it, for God sees everything as it is... Jesus did not die to save us from punishment; he was called Jesus because he should save his people from their sins. (October 23rd)
In other words: Jesus didn't come to save us from Hell. He came to save us from sin.

That last line, about why he was called "Jesus," is a reference to Matthew 1, when an angel of the Lord tells Joseph that Mary "will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (1:21). As you may know, Hebrew names in scripture often have a special meaning, and the Hebrew form of Jesus means 'the Lord saves'. Saves what? Well, "he will save his people from their sins."

Yet, in George MacDonald's day and still today, Christians often miss this point. We're taught about a salvation that's all about the future, about what happens after death, instead of a salvation that we can experience here and now.We're told that Jesus has saved us from eternal torment, and now we need to go be good Christians, when really the good news is that Jesus has set us free, saved us from sin, so that now we can live new lives in him, lives that lead to eternal life. Because of Jesus, we can live the lives that God made us for and be who God created us to be, free from sin's sway. When MacDonald hears people preaching a message of salvation from Hell, salvation from punishment, he points to that angel of the Lord: No, no, no! Remember - Jesus came to save us from sin itself!

Think about Matthew 7, when Jesus says: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (7:13-14). He's warning us about the wide, easy road, because it leads to destruction, and he's offering us a different path. The threat of destruction is there and it's real, and Jesus' challenge to us is to get on the right path. "Enter through this gate!" he says. He's trying to save us from that sinful road we would happily walk all the way to an unhappy fate. Salvation isn't just about arriving at the right destination. It's about walking the right path.

Or consider Zacchaeus. He was rich (Luke 19:2), which, Jesus had just said, makes it difficult for someone to enter God's kingdom (18:24-26). After all, where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (12:34). Yet Zacchaeus is inspired to let go of his wealth in the name of generosity and justice. And what is Jesus' response? "Today salvation has come to this house" (19:9). Zacchaeus decided to leave behind the wide, easy road and head through the narrow gate, and right then and there salvation came. He was set free from that tendency to sin and delivered into the pure air of God's ways of thinking and feeling. He learned to see wealth the way God saw it. Salvation had come.

All of this makes me think of that great line from Romans chapter 6: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (6:23). Surely this means that Jesus came to save us from eternal death by offering us eternal life instead! That's sure what it sounds like.

But if you read the entire chapter, you might notice a refrain: "set free from sin" (6:7), "set free from sin" (6:18), "set free from sin" (6:22). We were all slaves of sin, but Jesus died so that those who are in Christ might no longer be enslaved (6:6). So when we get to verse 23, the point is clear: Sin was working us like a slave-driver, and all we would get in return for our sweat and toil was death; but now we've changed masters, and God offers us the free gift of life. Jesus saved us from sin that leads to death so that we can be "slaves" of God, who gives life.

Folks, if Jesus has saved you, that means now. That means today. Jesus has made it possible for us to overcome the "smallest leaning or tendency to sin," if we embrace the salvation and the new life he offers. Jesus saves us from our "old self," so that we can put on "the new self," created according to God's image: righteous, just, and holy (Eph 4:22-24). The gospel of Jesus Christ isn't just about where you'll spend eternity. It's about who you can be now, in this life, in Christ. Because he has saved you from sin. He has made you new (2 Cor 5:17).

What could we accomplish for God's Kingdom today if we lived like people set free from sin? If the temptation to sin repelled us, and we saw thingssaw our neighbors, saw this worldas God sees them? What kind of light could we shine in the world if we, like Zacchaeus, let go of our money (or whatever it is) and took hold of Jesus instead?

"The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness." (Romans 6:10-13)

Friday, October 07, 2016

Philip Yancey, Donald Trump, and the LDS difference

UPDATE: This post was written before a 2005 video surfaced wherein Donald Trump boasts that his celebrity status lets him get away with sexually assaulting women. The first Republicans to rescind their endorsements of Trump (and even call for him to drop out of the race) following that revelation were LDS politicians from Utah.
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The morning after the first 2016 presidential debate, Philip Yancey was trending on Facebook.

This is unusual.

Philip Yancey is an evangelical author and a former editor of Christianity Today. I first encountered his work when I was going through a spiritual wilderness in high school, and someone gave me his book Disappointment with God. He's been communicating the gospel of grace for decades.

And he was trending on Facebook.

Why? It wasn't, as I immediately feared, because he had died. No, it was because he had spoken up about the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

You see, Yancey recently did an interview with Evangelical Focus, where he was asked about how American evangelicals have been approaching the election this year. He responded that he was "staggered" to see evangelicals standing behind "a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs." He went on:
I can understand why maybe you choose these policies that you support, but to choose a person who stands against everything that Christianity believes as the hero, the representative, one that we get behind enthusiastically is not something that I understand at all.

You can see his full response here:


Yancey's not alone. Max Lucado, Albert Mohler (former president of the Southern Baptist Convention), Russell Moore (head of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), Lecrae, and others have repudiated Trump over the course of the campaign season. Just this week, a survey from Christianity Today reported that only 38% of evangelical pastors say they are voting for Trump, while 44% remain undecided.

But why?

Well, Yancey mentioned the "several wives and several affairs," which, in years past, would have been enough for a candidate to lose the evangelical vote. (Remember the end of Herman Cain's campaign in 2012?) Yancey also mentioned the casinos, though he failed to point out that Donald Trump introduced strip clubs into Atlantic City casinos in 2013.

Then, of course, there's Trump's praise of Planned Parenthood, which should bother strict pro-life evangelicals, his demeaning remarks toward women (just ask Megyn Kelly), that time he mocked a disabled reporter, his perpetuating made-up, racist statistics about black Americans, his remarks about not asking for forgiveness, and that Playboy softcore porn video he had a cameo in back in 1999 (not his only work with Playboy). Among other things.

I was struck, during the first debate, by Trump's reaction when accused of stiffing countless workers whom he had employed over the decades. He didn't deny it and was unapologetic, instead justifying his acts by simply claiming he wasn't satisfied with their work. This brings to mind James's warning to the rich: "The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts" (5:4).

Even if evangelicals decide that they no longer care about a candidate's faith and character, Trump's general tone and attitude raise other concerns. When Jon Bloom, from Desiring God, looked to scripture to try and describe a "foolish leader," his discoveries almost felt tailor-made for Mr. Trump:
  • The foolish look with haughty eyes (Proverbs 6:17).
  • The foolish engage in slander (Proverbs 10:18).
  • The foolish joke about their wrongdoing (Proverbs 10:23).
  • The foolish make great boasts (Psalm 12:3).
  • The foolish are stubbornly right in their own eyes (Proverbs 12:15).
  • The foolish are quickly annoyed by insults (Proverbs 12:16).
  • The foolish lash out in rash words like sword thrusts (Proverbs 12:18).

  • That's not even half of his list, and, if you read on, it only sounds more familiar. This should be pretty unsettling to any Bible-believing voter.

    These are the sorts of things that lead many evangelical leaders to renounce the Republican candidate.

    And yet Trump's support among evangelicals is just as strong as Mitt Romney's was four years ago.

    Perhaps evangelical voters are indeed uncomfortable with Donald Trump, but they see Hillary Clinton as a greater threat. That seems to be why evangelical-favorite Ted Cruz recently took the shocking step of endorsing Trumphe did it to combat Hillary. It's a very pragmatic move. Many people feel that the most effective way to fight against abortion, to fight for religious liberty, is to fight the Democratic nominee. James Dobson of Focus on the Family recently penned an endorsement of Trump for Christianity Today to that effect, and Think Christian's 'Christian argument' for supporting Trump by Daniel Howell, a professor of biology at Liberty University, is little more than an argument against Clinton.
    (Of course, some evangelicals would argue that supporting Clinton is precisely what Christians ought to do.)

    The 'well... Trump's better than Hillary' talk brings us to the ever-popular "lesser of two evils" thinking about this year's election. The logic here is quite simple: we've only got two options, and you have to choose one, so choose the one that will do less damage. (Russell Moore wrote a nice article back in the spring asking "Should Christians Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?")

    Here's the problem with that logic: we don't have only two choices. Voting third party, writing-in a candidate, even abstaininggasp!are all options for evangelicals. "We only have two choices" is a lie. The fact that so many evangelicals are rallying nevertheless behind a man whose character is antithetical to their convictions and who, from a biblical perspective, lacks the wisdom to lead well reveals a stunning lack of imagination.

    This year evangelicals could learn from our Mormon neighbors.

    In Utah, that bastion of the Latter-Day Saints faith, Republicans always do well. They won the state in the last four presidential election with 66.8% in 2000, 71.5% in 2004, 62.2% in 2008, and 72.6% in 2012. Yet, as of the end of August, Donald Trump was polling at a dismal 39% in Utah. It's not because the Beehive State is supporting Clinton. Her numbers are just under Barack Obama's in 2012 and John Kerry's in 2004. The difference is in the third-party support. Those same polls from August show Libertarian Gary Johnson enjoying 12% of the likely vote and Evan McMullin, an upstanding and likeable young Mormon candidate with conservative policy positions, garnering 9%.

    Many conservative Mormons in Utah are refusing to compromise their values to support Donald Trump and resisting the lie that there are only two choices. They're listening to the dictates of their faith and then acting differently than the rest of the world. You would think that is the obvious course of action for deeply-committed religious voters... and yet evangelicals are supporting Trump. If only we had the conviction that LDS believers are demonstrating. They're going to come through this election season with more credibility in the eyes of the watching world. I'm afraid just the opposite will be true for evangelical Christians.

    But doesn't supporting a third-party candidate ultimately support Hillary Clinton? Maybe, although Democrats frequently sound the same warning: 'voting third party is a vote for Trump!' Regardless of how third-party votes affect Clinton and Trump, one thing is certain. Christians are not called to win elections. We're called to be faithful. We're called to take up our crosses and follow Christ, and, the last time I checked, crosses didn't get you any political power in Jesus' world.

    Wednesday, September 28, 2016

    God is actually quite Great: Frances Willard

    What good has religion ever done anybody?

    To a lot of people, that's a very good question.

    Maybe their experience with religion is limited to vicious jihadists on the news or so-called preachers who would call the victims of the June 12th massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando "50 vile, perverted predators." Or, maybe they grew up in a church that looked at the rest of the world with smug superiority, confidently opined on who's going to suffer for eternity in Hell, and mocked the hard-won discoveries of modern science. Then again, maybe they sincerely held a faith that let them down spectacularly when suffering and loss struck, and they're left wondering why they ever believed to begin with. Everyone has a story.

    And I can't help thinking that stories are exactly what folks asking that question need to hear. What good has religion ever done? I say, look at Maria Skobtsova or Annalena Tonelli; look at Father Damien of Molokai or the seven peacemakers of the Melanesian Brotherhood.

    Or look at Frances Willard.

    Today is the 177th anniversary of the birth of Frances Willard (1839-1898), a Methodist educator, suffragist, and social reformer, and to commemorate her birthday, I want to share a nice video from the United Methodist Church about her life and work.


    The video opens discussing her work as a prohibitionist (cue the eye-rolls) - but it quickly points out how she saw temperance work as a women's issue, and how the temperance movement soon moved on to embrace a number of social concerns of the day. Willard and her allies fought to transform society for the better, and they did it because of their Christian faith.

    Her story, like so many others, is the story of the good religion did somebody.