Thursday, January 22, 2015

Je suis Charlie?

"Choose your allies carefully: it's highly unlikely that you'll ever be held morally, legally, or historically accountable for the actions of your enemies." Some New Tactical Reflections by L. Neil Smith

During an editorial meeting with cartoonists and satirists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, two hooded men walked in with automatics and started shooting. The world was shocked and outraged. The aftermath of the attack was five injured and twelve dead, including a police officer, and a maintenance worker at a building two doors down from the intended target. Horrible, unspeakable violence justified, some would argue instigated, by religion.

Our natural reaction to such violence, or tragedies in general, is to rally around the victims and stand shoulder to shoulder with survivors. We create shrines of flowers, and candles, and stuffed animals at the scene of the tragedy. In recent years we've begun identifying with the victims. Live Strong, Chuck Strong, I Will Get Out Of My Car, I Can't Breathe, and now Je Suis Charlie.

"Je suis Charlie" means, I am Charlie. I've seen Christians post "Je suis Charlie". Politicians and Hollywood stars take pride in saying, "Je suis Charlie". Over 40 world leaders from nearly every world power marching in the streets of Paris under the banner, "Je suis Charlie". But is that who we really want to identify with?

Most people who say, "Je suis Charlie" have never read, or even seen Charlie Hebdo. To say that Charlie Hebdo is political satire is the most charitable way to describe the magazine. Charlie Hebdo is irreverent, offensive, divisive, and in many cases, repulsive. I doubt many Christians would proclaim, "Je suis Charlie" if they saw the cartoon depiction of Jesus having sexual relations with God the Father.

The world is not binary. Either on or off. Right or left. It is not always true that, "If you are not for me, then you are against me." What happened to the writers and editors of Charlie Hebdo was despicable and should never have happened. But that doesn't mean that we should identify with Charlie Hebdo. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

I am not Charlie. I am not Al-Qaeda. But who am I?

Scripture encourages us this way: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." Eph 5:1-2 NASB

Our task is to identify with Christ, to imitate Him as best we can in every situation. But where does that leave Charlie?

If I am not Charlie, if we take the "I" out of "Je suis Charlie", we are left with something intriguing: Je-sus Charlie. Even as we are called to identify with Christ, Jesus has already identified with us, all of us. Even the cartoonists and editors of Charlie Hebdo.

"… Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.'" 1 Peter‬ ‭2‬:‭21-24‬ NIV

Every citizen, and especially every Christ follower, has a responsibility to oppose the terrorism prevalent in the world around us. We should roundly condemn violence in the name of God. But our identity is found and bound up in Jesus, our Messiah. Charlie Hebdo already has someone who identified with them - and bore their sins. And that is both the beauty and mystery of God.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Depression is real. Deal with it.

Monday evening social media exploded. Many say they are mourning. Most are simply remembering a great entertainer; mourning our loss of a source of entertainment. Robin will be missed because he brought joy and laughter.

I never met Robin Williams. Most who did meet him probably didn't KNOW him.

But genuine mourning for Robin Williams is occurring. The loss of a father, a husband, a creative partner. They will miss the person, Robin Williams. Those types of losses are enormous, and the mourning will be great.

Christian scriptures frequently address mourning, but most people try to avoid it. The death of Robin Williams gives us an opportunity to think about subjects we try to avoid including mourning and depression.

Depression is real. Deal with it.

The author of Psalm 42 writes, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God." Jesus mourned over Jerusalem saying, "how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." There's even a whole book in the bible called Lamentations, grieving the judgment being poured out on God's people.

Depression has many causes, and is rarely only a spiritual issue. When Elijah was depressed and running away from Jezebel, God wouldn't even talk to him until Elijah got some good sleep and started eating right. If you are depressed, make sure you are eating healthy foods and getting enough rest.

God has given each of us an incredible machine called the human body. When you exercise, your body is designed to produce and release hormones that make you feel great. These hormones can help you dig out of depression, and start enjoying life again.

Also, people have a more positive view on life when they have fun in the sun. Many avoid depression during the dark winter months by simply sitting in front of a lamp that replicates the kind of light that is only found in sunlight.

But sometimes your body stops working the way it was designed. Hormone levels are abnormally low, or blood sugar levels develop wild swings, and your emotions, along with that feeling of wellbeing, take a dive.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression. All I wanted to do was sit on the back porch and stare at the clouds. Some people with depression just sit on the couch and watch TV. Others never make it out of bed. These conditions are serious and need to be addressed.

In my case, we attacked depression from every angle. I got more rest. I reduced my stress level. I started eating right. I started exercising more. I invested a few hours in talking with a Christian counselor. I read the bible more and prayed more. And I started supplementing low hormone levels with medication under the direction of my doctor. (By the way, he also prays with his patients and prescribes select passages of scripture!)

In addition to depression, here are a few more topics we avoid.

First, suicide is no joke. If someone starts talking about taking their life, even as a joke, tell someone. Most people who commit suicide talk about it before they attempt it.

Secondly, hurting people, hurt other people. Sometimes hurting people make others laugh. Be sensitive to the bullies and the comedians around you. They may be suffering through wounds that you can't see on the outside. Pray for them and with them. Encourage them and bring God's healing into their lives.

Finally, life is short. Death is certain. Keep short accounts. Paul told the church in Ephesus, "Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry." Say the things you need to say to the people you love before it's too late.

Jesus came to give life and He grieves when we throw it away. His followers should be sources of living water, not parched deserts of gloom.

As we mourn the death of a brilliant comic, don't miss this opportunity to deal with some of these issues in your own life or those around you. Carpe Diem! Seize the day!

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Nazis, CIA Agents, and Obamacare

Officials in Germany want to have a Pennsylvania man charged with war crimes. He was a prison guard at Auschwitz - one of the most notorious Nazi death camps during World War II. The 87 year-old man admits this, but argues that he did not take part in gassing the Jews.

We cry out that this man should be tried and convicted of unspeakable horrors. Even if he wasn't personally responsible for deaths, he should have stopped it. His conscience should have demanded action.

Recently, CIA interrogators used questionable methods to gain information they believed was vital to fight the war on terror. One of these methods was "water boarding".

Many people say these CIA agents should be tried and convicted for their actions. Excuses that they were "just following orders" and the "ends justified the means" do not make them innocent. Their consciences should have made them stop and question their tactics.

We all hold firmly to the belief that you and I have a responsibility to follow our conscience and prevent "wrongdoing" or "horrific actions" when we see them occur. We believe that people should be held accountable for their actions even if they were "just following the law". In short we believe in the duty, or responsibility, of conscience.

This is such a strong belief in America that we have laid clear boundaries respecting the right of conscience - the flip side of the responsibility of conscience. Since the founding of this nation, we have valued the right of individuals to follow their conscience even when it violated a law or statute. There are conscientious objectors who did not have to serve in the military when we had a draft. Amish students are exempt from truancy laws after a certain age. And up until recently, nurses could not be forced to participate in abortions if it violated their conscience.

We have long understood that we are ultimately accountable to God and society for our actions, good or evil, regardless of what the law requires. We resonate with the warning given by James, the half-brother of Jesus, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."

But the right of conscience has been challenged. In February 2011, the Obama administration revoked the right of conscience for healthcare workers to "opt out" of procedures they found morally questionable. Then earlier this year, the administration refused to extend the right of conscience to individuals providing health care coverage for their employees. Employers MUST now provide government defined insurance coverage even if that includes procedures and medication that violates the provider's conscience.

But that forces us into a dilemma: We can't deny the rights of conscience to medical workers and insurance providers, and at the same time hold former Nazi guards and CIA agents responsible to what we think their conscience should have demanded. We must choose.

Choice #1: We can grant the right of conscience to anyone who claims it, and retain the right to hold individuals accountable to their conscience when they make choices that are obviously evil.

Choice #2: We can deny the right of conscience to individuals to who claim it, and lose the right to hold ex-Nazi guards and CIA agents accountable.

We cannot have it both ways. Having it both ways would be what the founders called "tyranny" - the arbitrary exercise of power.

A consistent, stable society requires recognition of the rights of conscience. Without that right, we will be reduced to tyranny.

The right of conscience must be defended vigorously, even when we disagree with those claiming it. If we deny the rights of conscience to others, it will not be there when we need it, even when facing death camps and water boarding. If we are to defend the right of conscience then we must repeal and replace Obamacare and encourage our President to repeal Executive Orders that strip medical professionals of this basic constitutional right.

On November 6th you have the opportunity to defend the right of conscience by voting for people who understand and who will defend that right. No one else can do it for you.

The choice is yours. Choose well.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

The Real Mike Pence

Mike Pence’s challenger for governor has some pretty humorous ads on TV, but they paint a twisted cartoon image of a man I know and respect. If all you know about Mike Pence is what you see in attack ads or what you hear from canned talking points, then I'd like to introduce you to the real Mike Pence.

Mike first successfully ran for Congress shortly after my young family moved to New Castle. It w
as refreshing to see a positive campaign amid a sea of partisan mudslinging. From a distance Mike looked friendly and competent. In 2004 the Ferrells went to Washington D.C. for the first time and got to see Mike up-close.

My daughters, my wife, and I were taking an elevator to the floor where Mike's office was located; it was his fourth year in office. As we stepped off the elevator Mike was waiting to take the elevator back down. I whispered to my girls, "That's our congressman." Mike heard me and stepped out of the elevator, letting it move to another floor without him. He spent the next several minutes talking to Kaitie and Emily. It was then that I became a Pence supporter.

Since then I have attended town hall meetings and observed a congressman who was there primarily to listen. And I saw something else. Mike stood up against his fellow Republicans and a Republican President when they were spending more than a healthy budget could afford. Mike has gently shut down people making personal attacks on the current President, even though he disagrees with nearly every policy position of the current administration.

I've volunteered for the congressman since 2010 and have seen the integrity with which he and his staff conduct themselves. The vision statement for his campaign is "to glorify God through public service." Their tactics include modeling a servant attitude and promoting positive ideas. When my father passed away in the spring of 2011, the Pence staff sent me one of the most meaningful cards of support that included several prayers and encouraging scripture verses. And in what seems like a throwback to an earlier generation, they do not schedule events on Sunday.

Recently, Mike prayed with a group of volunteers before sending them on their various routes home. I've even seen him lunge to catch a toddler falling from her father's shoulders, even though Mike was scheduled for knee surgery the very next day.

The Mike Pence I know is a man of integrity who loves God, loves his family, and loves to serve the people he represents. He is highly effective, widely respected, and committed to a positive campaign that champions good jobs, great schools, safe streets, and strong families. Mike is far from the cartoon character that some people draw. He's a seasoned leader and will make an excellent Governor of Indiana.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Response to Roger Ebert's Article - Civics:101

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. ~ Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda.

I like Roger Ebert. He is a great movie critic and I have relied on his recommendations to make movie selections. But when it comes to Civics 101, Roger needs to go back to school.

In Ebert's article published in the New Castle Courier Times last week he made several statements that are simply wrong. But it's not his fault; unfortunately we've been taught a skewed and inaccurate view of American history for decades and now many believe this flawed view to be true.

The prayer rally, while unique in recent years was a common occurrence in the first century of the United States. Between 1622 and 1815 there were over 1,200 prayer proclamations made by presidents and governors including George Washington and John Hancock.

Mr. Ebert ridiculed pre-game prayers asking for victory. Every pre-game prayer I've heard or been involved in asked not for victory but for the safety of all players including their opponents. God may not be interested in "the drift of a field goal kick" but it wouldn't surprise me considering the New Testament story of the fish with a coin in his mouth and the Old Testament story of Gideon and his fleece.

Roger stated that this nation "was specifically not a Christian nation." That flies in the face of statements made by dozens of individuals including George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Benjamin Rush, & John Hancock. These individuals, along with several courts and congress itself emphatically stated that the United States was founded on Biblical principles.

Yes, the founding settlers were escaping persecution from nations with state sponsored religions. Which is why they went back to scripture to support revolution against those governments. John Locke wrote The Two Treatises of Government, which quoted scripture over a thousand times to refute the Divine Right of Kings. 100 years later the Founders used Locke's book to create the Declaration of Independence.

If you examine nations, both current and historical, religious freedom and tolerance can only be found in nations founded on Judeo-Christian principles. That's because the founders believed in the free market system and the free exchange of ideas found in scripture. Everyone has an opportunity to share their ideas, products and beliefs; the best ones survive and thrive but the worst ones still have the right to stay in the conversation.

Mr. Ebert also states on more than one occasion that our form of government is a democracy. However, the Constitution guarantees a republican (representative) form of government, not a pure democracy. The Pledge of Allegiance reinforces this concept when we declare, "and to the Republic for which it stands." Many of the founders rejected democracy as one of the worst forms of government. John Adams said, "Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

Roger Ebert has had several challenges in his life, and I appreciate his passion for life. He is more than qualified to critique motion pictures. I just wish he had done his homework in Civics 101.

By the way, in researching the information in this letter, I found that the quote at the top of this letter was never actually made by the Nazi minister of propaganda, Dr. Joseph Goebbels. But it was repeated often enough that most people now believe he said it, which is incredibly ironic.

Don't believe everything you hear or read. Search for and follow the truth wherever it leads. Use original documents as often as possible, if not exclusively. Do your own research. Then teach others.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

It's Time To Pray

New Castle Courier-Times Christian Perspectives Article for Saturday, August 6th, 2011
Colossians 4:2 - Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

It's time to pray.

I don't know anyone who likes what has been going on in Washington D.C. I don't know anyone whose heart has not been touched by the scenes from Japan in the aftermath of the tsunami. More than a year later people are still concerned with the desperation found in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake. Families with relatives in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, and elsewhere pray every day for their sons, and daughters, and mothers, and fathers serving our country.

2011 marks the driest 7-month period in Texas in recorded history; in Louisiana this is the second driest year ever; Arizona is experiencing menacing dust storms. Locally, farmers have either received just enough rain to save this year's crop, or are looking at losing the whole season's harvest.

It's time to pray - and you have several opportunities to join people across this community, and across the country, for times of prayer. Your first opportunity is today, Saturday August 6th.

From 11 o'clock this morning until 6 o'clock this evening people will be fasting and praying for our nation - many are gathering at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. In view of the condition of our nation, this solemn gathering is a response to the biblical book of Joel, chapter 2. Ministry and ethnic leaders from around the nation are supporting this prayer event, as are the governors of Texas and Maine.

It's time to pray - a call from New Castle Prays.

New Castle Prays is a group of individuals who pray regularly for our city. They gather at the courthouse at 7 am on the first Thursday of every month to pray; consider this your invitation to be a part of that prayer time. If you would like to get e-mail prayer updates just send a request to Tisha Sledd at

New Castle Prays is also sponsoring "Pray the Price for Henry County Schools" on Sunday, August 28th. They are calling people to pray at the elementary schools at 2pm and then everyone will meet at the New Castle High School to pray at 3pm. In addition, they are asking churches to join in a day of fasting - choosing one day between August 22 through 28 to fast as a congregation. Let Tisha know if your church is interested in joining them.

It's time to pray - on September 28th for See You At the Pole.

Students from around the country will gather in prayer circles around the flag pole before school on that Wednesday morning. Teachers and school staff are welcome to attend, but the prayer times must be student led. If you are a student who wants to organize a See You At the Pole event at your school you can get more information at

Or you can do what people have done around the world for generations - just pray. Pray for our President, and Governor, and Mayor. Pray for our legislators and judges. Pray for our newspaper editors and TV and Radio news producers. Pray for our families. Pray for our teachers. Pray for our pastors. Pray for other Christians.

The tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on our nation is coming up in a few weeks - pray for our first responders and those serving in the military. Then write or call them and tell them you are holding them up in prayer.

It's time to pray. What will your response be?

Questions or comments? Write me at

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Budget - What Would Jesus Do?

The poverty rate has remained statistically unchanged for the last 45 years. In view of the billions of dollars the government has spent "helping" those in poverty, it is surprising that the percentage of those below the poverty level has not decreased at all, let alone substantially. What would Jesus do?

A group of ministers called The Circle of Protection, led by Rev. Jim Wallis, would have you believe that the bible commands us to continue these government programs no matter what the cost. I believe that they are misguided, thought well meaning, because they have focused on portions of scripture that have been taken out of context.

This religious lobbying group based in Washington, D.C. faithfully quotes the "least of these" phrase found in Matthew 25. Then they suggest that the government is responsible to obey their interpretation of this phrase.

Setting aside the fact that the full context of Matthew 25 describes a scene of each individual on the day of judgment, as opposed to entire nations standing in judgment, - there are other places where the "The Circle of Protection" becomes skewed.

Luke 4:18-19 is Christ's own description, first revealed in Isaiah, of His mission. 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

When you include Jesus' command to His disciples found in Matthew 28:18-20 you have the mission of the church. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

In condensed form, the mission of the church contains eight objectives: Preach good news to the poor, Proclaim freedom for the prisoners, Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, Release the oppressed, Proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, Make disciples, Baptizing them, and Teaching them.

The Circle of Protection focuses on just one of these objectives - Preach good news to the poor. If that was the only objective of the church (even though they extend this obligation to the government) then their stance regarding the current budget crisis could be justifiable.

But can anyone look at the history of government assistance programs since the mid 1960's and say that they also accomplish the objective of proclaiming freedom for the prisoners, or that they release the oppressed? In fact the record suggests that, for most individuals who are in poverty, government programs actually keep them enslaved and continue to oppress them.

Another fact that fails to come to light is that the federal government can only provide these services by use of compulsory giving (i.e., taxes). This flies in the face of Paul's direction to the believers in Corinth, "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

I acknowledge that the bible says that the government can tax its citizens and that the citizens do have an obligation to pay taxes. But this presupposes that the government is only fulfilling its God-given role and is not usurping the role of God's people.

It would be un-Christian to advocate for a program that for nearly half a century has claimed to be good news to the poor, but in reality has oppressed them and held them captive.

The Circle of Protection has asked "What Would Jesus Do?" in relation to the budget crisis. I think He might point to the church and ask, "Why are you demanding that the government take money from your neighbor to do something that I commanded you to do and gave you the resources to accomplish it?"

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