Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

Twenty-one years ago, the Columbine massacre gave Christians in America a symbol of standing up for God.

Cassie Bernall became famous in death after stories came out that one of the killers asked her if she believed in God. As the story went, she replied, “Yes,” and was promptly killed. While questions have come up as to whether that story is true, she became an example for Christians around the world of boldly standing up when everything is at stake. Books and songs were written about Cassie and her decision, including “This is Your Time,” by Michael W. Smith.

In Luke 12:9, Jesus warns that “whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God” (NRSV). This warning is echoed in Luke 9:26, as well as across the other two Synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Mark). These words and Cassie’s story served to inspire confidence that when the time inevitably came – and soon, as this was during the peak Left Behind years – we would have the faith and courage to take the same stand she did.

This was particularly impressionable for me as a 12-year-old kid terrified that I might someday actually face such a choice between life and death. Thankfully, to this point that has not come to pass. But I believe Christians face a far more demanding choice today.

While the thought of dying for my faith sounds terrifying, that was actually a core part of the evangelical obsessions with persecution I grew up with. Combine that with a disproportionate focus on heaven that completely neglects legitimate caring for this world and this current life, and you actually have a choice that many Christians weirdly hope for. After all, what better way to prove my faith than to die for it?

I’m not in any way suggesting it would be easy to stand in that moment and know you are choosing to give up your life. But I am saying that when you believe the next step is far more wonderful than this one, it actually makes the choice easier than taking such a stand in the world while continuing to live.

We’ve reached that point. We actually reached that point a long time ago, but I believe Donald Trump’s actions yesterday take this to an entirely new level. I believe we stand at a point in history where we must make the choice, and choosing not to publicly stand is the same as offering the negative response.

Another thing that was drilled into me as a child was never “taking the Lord’s name in vain.” I mean, it’s one of the 10 Commandments (Number 3!), so you know it’s a big deal. The problem is, we’ve made a joke of that commandment in our culture. You see, I was taught that it meant I couldn’t literally say the name of the Lord in a non-respectful way. So, that meant “Oh, my God” was basically the worst thing that could ever be said. Really.

Somehow, today I think the reality of that commandment goes just a bit deeper. Taking someone’s name in vain is to attach their name to something that undermines their character. It’s blasphemy, or character assassination. Spreading rumors about someone you don’t like in middle school to try to destroy their reputation is taking their name in vain.

For God, it’s a bit bigger. And it’s probably the biggest problem we have in American “Christian” culture. You see, any time someone does something that contradicts the nature or heart of God and does so while appealing to God’s name, that is taking the Lord’s name in vain. This is really challenging when you realize that many of the key political stances supported by the majority of “Christians” in America actually go against the words and actions of Jesus. Each time a “Christian” uses the Bible or appeals to God as a reason for mistreating, oppressing, persecuting, neglecting, refusing service to, or offering anything less than Jesus’ sacrificial love to their neighbor – which, according to Jesus and the story of the Good Samaritan, includes refugees, illegal immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims, and even democrats – we are taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Yesterday, in the midst of the worst pandemic in 100 years, the worst unemployment in 90 years, and the biggest racial protests in 50 years, Donald Trump took the Lord’s name in vain. And he did it in about the biggest way you can.

It was by no means the first time he’s done such a thing. However, this has to be the biggest.

After publicly declaring war on his own citizens – literally threatening to “[mobilize] all available federal resources, civilian and military” – he prompted the National Guard and US Park Police to use force (including tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bombs) to clear away a group of peaceful protestors near the White House. First, that’s a violation of the First Amendment rights American “Christians” claim to hold so dear.

He used military force to injure his own citizens in order to push them out of the way so he could lead his own mini-parade down the street to historic St. John’s Church. Did he do this to pray for God’s leadership through one of the most difficult times in our nation’s history?


He did this so that he could hold up a Bible in front of the church for a photo. He violated everything God stands for – love, mercy, justice, peace, support for the oppressed and vulnerable – so that he could make a mockery of God by posing with a Bible in front of the church.

I remember back when the Left Behind books were popular, reading about the antichrist parading into the temple and declaring himself God. Trump didn’t exactly declare himself God yesterday, although he has referred to himself as “the chosen one” and promoted comments that compare him to the second coming and the messiah in the past.

But while the country he pretends to lead burns around him, he dialed up some old-fashioned police brutality – exactly what the protests are all about – so he could make a nice show for his base of white evangelical “Christians” who put him in office in 2016.

This is your time.

Trump – along with his “Christian” supporters – has long mocked the name of God with his words, actions, and policies. All the while, he’s maintained seemingly impossibly high polling numbers from among American “Christians,” who claim to support him because of their faith in Jesus. Yet another example of taking the Lord’s name in vain.

His actions yesterday reach a whole new level of blasphemy. Jesus warns of the consequences of his followers denying him before others, but how much worse will it be for his followers to actively take his name in vain by proclaiming to stand for him with their lips while they very publicly deny him by their lives, actions, and political stances?

If any prior president – republican or democrat – had done what Trump did yesterday in a similar situation, the backlash from American “Christians” would have been swift and unforgiving. But that same group has shown an endless capacity to accept anything and everything Trump says and does, all the while praising Jesus for the mighty Donald Trump. Once again, taking the Lord’s name in vain.

This is your time. No more excuses. Jesus warned that we cannot serve both God and man, and yesterday Trump shockingly found a way to make what had already been crystal clear even more obvious that he and God could not be more diametrically opposed in every way.

You either stand with Trump or you stand with Jesus. Staying silent is standing with Trump. It is simply unacceptable for anyone who follows Jesus to not cry out with the full force of faith to decry the blasphemy of the words and actions of Trump yesterday (really, every day, but especially yesterday).

This is your time. No one is holding a gun to your head, which means you have to live with your answer. But the whole world is watching to see our response. It’s only reached this point because Trump’s base of American “Christians” has remained silent (or even openly supported) his long list of prior words and actions that violate everything Jesus lived (and died) for. He’s the one more than 80 percent of white evangelicals chose to be their president, and he’s the man that the majority of American “Christians” still support as of recent polling.

For me, there is no choice. I have no interest in standing with Donald Trump. I follow a God who promises so much more. But for those who’ve stuck with him with all their “but…” arguments to try to justify it, we’ve reached this point. You brought this on yourself. And now you’re faced with a choice.

Who are you standing with? Who are you denying? This is your time.

Boy kneels with American flag in front of rows of tombstones

Memorial Day is designated as a holiday in order for us to remember those who died in the service of our country. Over the course of our nearly 250-year history, millions of people have given their lives to protect our nation and what it stands for.

I am ever grateful to those who gave everything so that we could have hope for a land where all “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Each one chose to give up their own rights to prioritize the rights of their neighbors. Today, along with a solemn, “Thank you,” I have another two-word confession to offer them:

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Luke 12

Today’s closer look at Luke examines another section of lengthy discourse. So many of the things Jesus says tie back to many of the topics we’ve already touched on in previous posts, with the core of the message being a radical faith that is lived out through selfless sacrifice to provide for everyone else. Basically, every step of the way, Jesus’ call contradicts what we naturally choose to pursue and the values of a materialistic world.

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Luke 11

Jesus’ interactions with the religious leaders of the day was often antagonistic, and that is a key component of the stories in today’s section of Luke. One thing to keep in mind as we read about Jesus’ often bitter interactions with these leaders is the contrast between his tone and message toward them and his compassion for all others. This exposes a key component to his heart and mission: an extreme openness to all who might be considered outsiders, or in some cases, followers, compared to the aggressive rebukes of the leaders who had guided them away from the heart of God.

I think this is something we should always maintain at the front of our thoughts about Jesus: it wasn’t the people we would expect that he rebuked, and it wasn’t the people we would expect that he invited openly. Our current culture is perhaps as divided as it has ever been, creating an extreme mentality of “us vs. them,” and this absolutely holds true among people who profess to follow Christ. Perhaps we should take a step back and consider humbly whether our exclusive message and harsh judgments towards the words and actions of certain groups really align with the way Jesus interacted with people. I find it incredibly telling that the only people Jesus consistently rebukes are religious leaders who, as he maintained, should know better.

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Case full of cash stacks

With the decline of honest conversation, we’ve reached a point where the political right basically decries any amount of government as socialism, equates it with the Soviet Union, and decries it as evil.

Unfortunately, doing so just feeds the flames of incivility and creates this bogeyman that can be used to incite fear and anger and turn people against anything. Honestly, it’s not any different from what Senator Joseph McCarthy did in the 1950s, except it’s focused on turning the mob against specific political ideas rather than individuals (although it is often used on people as well).

By creating this extreme “other” of socialism and moving the goalposts so it’s always encroaching on us, this political approach pushes us further and further in the opposite direction. In doing so, it doesn’t allow for a real conversation as to whether or not what we’re doing is right or if we should slow down and maybe actually consider the results of our structure.

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Luke 10

Today’s closer look at Luke will be shorter than most (though still not particularly short, because I’m incapable of being concise), but in no way does that diminish the importance of the content. In fact, the primary reason it will be shorter is because I’ve already two posts examining the parable of the Good Samaritan, which covers almost half of chapter 10.

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Luke 9

Part of my closer look at Luke project has been seeking out snippets and sections that I have overlooked previously and/or that I feel like have been overlooked by “Christian” culture at large in our country. Another part, one that will be the driving force behind today’s post, is taking seriously some of the things that have been repeated so much as to become cliché and to have lost their meaning within that same “Christian” culture.

The key message at the heart of this chapter is one that has been commonly repeated, but I believe it has been robbed of its meaning:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? (23-25)

The last piece of that is something I’ve clung to over the last several years and, to be honest, something that helped spark a transformation in my own thinking and faith. But while it tidily sums up so much of Jesus’ heart, everything around it both in this short quote and in the rest of the chapter support and confirm this truth.

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Woman wearing a mask and holding lemon in a grocery store

*NOTE* I realize there are groups who either cannot wear masks for health reasons (such as breathing issues) or do not feel comfortable wearing masks in public due to the color of their skin and the threat of racism that is so endemic to our culture. This message is intended for people who do not have to consider such unfair challenges each time they go out in public (or in some cases, just sit in their homes).

While life is full of opportunities to learn, on occasion we face significant moments that can dramatically reshape how we think about something. Sometimes we even discover a simple test that serves a tremendous service in revealing a person’s character.

The Covid-19 pandemic has provided countless situations like these. But the one that fascinates me most right now is the purpose of masks.

I’ll start with the first half of my above statement: the opportunity to learn. While this seems like such an obvious thing (and I feel a little stupid for not realizing it before), it wasn’t until quite recently that I learned the true purpose of medical masks. In fact, I always had it backwards.

I always thought masks were about protecting the wearer.

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Luke 8

As we approach this chapter in our closer look at Luke, we see that most of it consists of stories that are very commonly taught in the Jesus narrative: Jesus sharing the parable of the sower, calming the storm, healing a demon-possessed man and sending the demons into a herd of pigs, and healing a dead girl and a sick woman.

Many of these sections have been mined for content, and they all offer important glimpses into the ministry of Jesus. However, I want to focus on just a couple key passages that, as has been the theme of this study, I have not previously noticed and fully considered.

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Luke 7

The last section we reviewed included some of the most well-known words of Jesus, and today we look at what happened immediately after the Sermon on the Plain. In the seventh chapter of Luke, we read several short stories about Jesus providing healing and encouraging words, and I believe the two key takeaways that I’ve previously missed are humility and action.

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