Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Supreme power

Theocracies - those nations supposedly governed by God - are a strange animal in this world. Look at modern-day Iran, for example.

The Ayatollah in theory has the power to overrule the democratic institutions of the nation if he feels their actions run counter to Allah's will. That may be what happened in the recent elections there. It appears that many voters have challenged his supreme authority.

Historically, the Christian Church of the 1300's and 1400's had something of a similar hierarchy. The Pope had ultimate power to influence governments. Monarchs needed the Pope's approval for major decisions.

The popes, in those centuries, became more and more corrupt. They formed an international powerhouse that was subject to no one - but they were not ruled by God's principles. Their reigns were based on political alliances and manipulation that might make our heads spin today. Or not, considering our current politics.

When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt's slavery, we see a working theocracy. Moses met with God and conveyed God's commands to the people. God led the people.

However, when the Israelites finally reached the Promised Land of Canaan, the theocracy which continued soon collapsed. If you've ever read the book of Judges, you know the theme of that book is "each man did what was right in his own eyes."

More specifically, Judges shows us that we need a king. We don't do so well on our own. Often, theocracies have a Wizard of Oz look, where the show is impressive but it's all run by a guy behind the curtain.

How is God involved in government? Tomorrow, I'm going to search some biblical texts for principles to apply to our political leaders.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Thinning the beets

Still rubbing the sleep from our eyes, we leaned on our garden hoes in the early morning cool as Dad gave his annual description of how to thin the crop. Dad was a sugar beet farmer and, in those days, the technology didn’t yet place each little beet seed at the proper distance from the others.

So they had to be thinned.

“It might be hard to take out a healthy plant,” he told us, “but if it’s right beside another plant, neither one will grow well. They’ll both steal from the other and we won’t get much from either.”

So we learned to pluck a plant when it crowded in on another. We pulled healthy plants to make room for less hearty ones, because the lessor one was in the right place to grow well. And, given the room to get sunlight and water, those usually caught up quickly.

We had to anticipate how large that sugar beet would one day become, and leave room for that growth.

I was thinking about the same thing yesterday as I thinned some carrots in my garden.

“You thinned the carrots??” my daughter said. “I like carrots.”

“That’s why I did it. Those carrots were like grass, too thick to grow very large,” I told her.

But really, yesterday, I was thinking about priorities. I have been guilty in my life of being unwilling to thin my crop. I allowed activities and interests to crowd in on me, to steal away time and resources.

The activities often looked healthy and good.

But what I’m trying to learn is, like crops that need thinned, too many activities keep any from becoming mature.

You don’t get a good crop from carrot grass.

But seek first the kingdom of God

Matt 6:33

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Our Christian nation

Although this country has drifted from its roots, there's little doubt that we founded this nation "under God," fully intending to operate by biblical principles. Some today try to disclaim - or dilute - that intent, but changing history in speeches doesn't change it in fact. We must stand up for truth and not wilt in the face of withering opposition.

If you haven't seen this video yet, take a look:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


We sometimes feel like we're surrounded by those who deny God and live by their own rules. Their gods are not our God and we may feel weak and powerless.

But this is not the first time in history this situation has even happened. In the first century, Paul wrote to people in the same kind of situation. They were new believers surrounded by pagans who pressured them to abandon their new faith for the religion of the masses. Why fight the crowd when it would be so easy to tolerate every belief system?

My new book, Set Apart: Living Today in a Pagan World, addresses the issue of maintaining our faith in the midst of cultural opposition. Click here for Set Apart's website. I hope you'll take a look!

Yesterday, I mentioned Bible quizzing because the quiz material for the 2009-2010 year is 1&2 Corinthians and Titus, the same material covered by Set Apart, which makes it a good companion book for quizzers as well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New book

When I see young people excited about God's Word, I always check it out. Bible quizzing has been one of the avenues, where teenagers memorize different books of the New Testament (it varies from year to year) and then join competition against other teams.

Tomorrow, I have exciting news that references Bible quizzing, but for now, I want you to know a little more about it. Here's a promotional clip about Bible quizzing (done by my talented daughter):

Monday, June 22, 2009

Threat to VOM

An anonymous fax believed to have been sent from the North Korean Embassy in Finland or Denmark, promises workers affiliated with The Voice of the Martyrs (USA) that "something very bad will happen to you," if VOM continues a special project to share the gospel via weekly fax transmissions to government and business representatives of the restricted Asian nation.

During the past year VOM has made an effort to collect as many fax numbers as possible from North Korea, one of the world's most isolated nations. VOM sends weekly faxes containing Christian messages and scripture passages on love and forgiveness to each of the fax numbers.

Apparently, the project has touched a nerve at the highest levels of North Korea's repressive government.

"We know who you are," begins a fax, written in Korean but without a signature. "We warn you that if you send this kind of dirty fax again something very bad will happen to you. Don't do something you will regret."

Please Pray!

"This fax is good news," said Todd Nettleton, VOM's director of Media Development and the author of a book on the history of Christianity in North Korea. "This means that the faxes are getting through, and they are being read. It is highly unlikely that this type of response would have been made from an embassy without some approval from Pyongyang."

Pray that the leaders of this tyrannical government will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Pray also that Christians in North Korea will stand firm in their faith, despite the dangers they face.

The Voice of the Martyrs exists to serve persecuted Christians living in restricted nations, and to help spread the gospel in those nations. The ministry has been active in North Korea for decades, including launching tens of thousands of "Scripture Balloons," helium filled balloons that are printed with scripture passages and other gospel messages.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sean's house

Sean didn’t expect to find his landlord sitting in the living room as he unlocked the front door. But there Charlie was, feet up on the coffee table, watching a baseball game and drinking a cola out of the refrigerator.

“Hey, got any peanuts?” Charlie asked. “How about them Cubs, huh?”

Sean dropped his lunchbox on the floor. “Charlie, why don’t you go home?”

“Your TV is better than mine,” Charlie said. “And you got plenty of Coke in the fridge.” He leaned toward Sean and winked. “And, remember, I own this place.”

Sean lost entire meals to his landlord, who especially liked cold pizza in the afternoon while Sean was at work. Finally, it was enough. The apartment wasn’t that wonderful and Sean moved on.

He found another apartment on the other side of town. It was closer to work and had a nicer kitchen besides. His neighbors were nicer and, to top it off, Charlie didn’t own the place.

So Sean was shocked one night when, after work, he found Charlie sitting in the living room, feet up on the coffee table, watching a baseball game and drinking a cola out of the refrigerator.

“Hey, got any peanuts?” Charlie asked.

“Charlie, go home.”

“You wound me,” Charlie said. “I thought we were friends. Remember how many times I’ve visited your place.”

“This isn’t your place anymore. Go away.”

Charlie raised a big fuss but he left, because he no longer had any authority there. Sean was right: he didn’t own this new home.

Remember Sean's story the next time you’re feeling a little down. Who owns your spiritual home? And who are you allowing in?

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
2 Cor 5:17

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wilma's gift

Russ sang beautiful songs of praise for Wilma, adding rich guitar notes as they worshiped God together. But as I pressed the doorbell for my visit, I had brought nothing. I wanted to encourage and comfort, but afraid my words would be flat in a house of grief.

If you've followed my posts on our dear Wilma, you know that her days are short. But there was no grief as I made my way back to her bedroom.

There I found Wilma propped up in bed, hooked up to an oxygen tube but bright-eyed and alert.

I gave her a delicate hug and sat down beside the bed. “We have to pray for her,”
Wilma told me. She nodded her head at Kathi, her housemate and caretaker. “She has to go to the doctor to see about her bad back. We have to pray that he can get that fixed for her.”

And so my visit started with both of us holding hands and praying for Kathi.

‘Whew,” said Wilma in her soft southern drawl. “Wasn’t that good?”

She reached out and took my hand. I had held the hand of elderly saint before, but none had ever stroked my hand and then exclaimed, “You have beautiful hands! Look at those long fingers.”

She looked at her own hand. “Look at all these wrinkles,” she said. “That picture your sister got of my hands was something, wasn’t it?”

My sister, a professional photographer, had captured a classic photo a few years ago of Wilma’s hands laid over an open Bible. The crinkled pages and the furrows of her hands had formed a rich message of commitment and determination.

I told her that her willingness to be photographed was a gift to many people.

“It takes a long time to get your hands that wrinkled,” she told me.

“That’s the point,” I said. “Those wrinkles speak of the commitment to the Word that you have. It takes a long time to show that kind of commitment.”

I could see she was tiring. I prayed for her strength, for God’s comfort, for her caretakers, for joy in the coming days. She sighed contentedly as I gave her a goodbye hug.

Wilma is sailing with joy and peace into God’s presence, looking forward to her graduation. Her sweet love for her Savior and her love for others had soaked me with joy. I had gone to bring cheer to Wilma. But she had a final gift for me instead.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Christian: Casual and Captive

I've been discussing an insight from George Barna's new book, The Seven Faith Tribes. Yesterday, I briefly recapped Barna's descriptions of two tribes of Christians: Casual and Captive.

What I found especially interesting is that these two tribes co-mingle in many of our churches. Barna didn't discuss this, but I have found both tribes in churches I've been a part of over the years.

This was an "ah-ha" moment for me to realize that if 80 percent of Christians are Casual, they often guide the helm of many churches. It is their comfortable warm fuzzies that direct the ministries and vision of churches.

This division of Casual and Captive explains to me the tension in many churches. The Captives are voluntary slaves. Slaves serve their master; conflict is irrelevant.

the Casuals want peace and happiness in the church. They believe God wants them happy and comfortable.

I haven't yet formulated a response to this. What do we do when the Casuals generally have the vote and certainly hold the financial clout to press churches into a comfortable, peaceable climate? Does this honor God?

Barna comments on the Captives: "What they lack in numbers they make up for in passion and determination, based on their belief that what they do matters greatly to God and that His love for them compels them to respond in kind by seeking to influence the world for His glory."

Passion may trump numbers but it's not making a peaceful united journey. But which honors God?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Christian tribes

Yesterday, you got a preview of George Barna's new book, The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter.

Although I found it odd at first, I began to resonate with Barna's idea that there are two tribes of Christians. No, he didn't split them into liberal/conservative or north/south or mainline/evangelical.

Based on many surveys done by Barna's research, he divided Christians into what he labeled Casual and Captive.

Casual Christians center on comfort. They are comfortable with themselves (mostly) and believe they are making a positive difference in the world. Their personal goals revolve around keeping peace with everyone, including God.

God provides a safety net to Casual Christians, waiting in the wings to nudge them when necessary and save them when times get tough. God, for these Casuals, wants them comfortable and happy, rewarding them in the end for their good nature.

Religion is less of a belief than another goal to pursue, along with happiness, success and comfort.

Two out of every three Americans are Causal Christians and, of those Americans who call themselves Christian, 80 percent are Casual. That means about 150 million Americans are Casual Christians.

Contrast that with Captive Christians. About 16 percent of the adult population of American falls into this category. These see themselves, as Paul did, as voluntary slaves to Jesus Christ.

These Captives believe they are spiritual beings who are full-time servants of the living God. They are spiritual warriors who feel intimacy with God and believe they are directed by the Holy Spirit, which they believe literally lives within them.

Their highest priorities are faith and family. The Bible is their handbook for life and nine out of 10 believe it be accurate in all the principles it teaches. Faith is the heart of their existence and daily purpose.

Tomorrow, I want to offer some observations on these two Christian tribes.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Seven Faith Tribes by George Barna

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Watch for an indepth review on this book tomorrow. I found it provide great insights into the nature of faith in America. Read this book. It's important as we interact with friends and neighbors to understand the faith tribes. I'll talk more tomorrow but this is a valuable resource!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Seven Faith Tribes

BarnaBooks (April 2, 2009)


George Barna is the author or coauthor of more than forty books, including best sellers such as The Frog in the Kettle, The Power of Vision, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, Revolution, and Pagan Christianity. He has had more than one hundred articles published in magazines and other periodicals and writes the bimonthly report The Barna Update, which is read by more than a million people each year.

He is the founder and directing leader of The Barna Group, Ltd., a company that provides primary research and resources related to cultural analysis, faith dynamics, and transformation. Through The Barna Group, he has served hundreds of clients as varied as the Billy Graham Association, World Vision, CBN, the Walt Disney Company, Ford Motor Company, Visa USA, and the United States Navy.

He has taught at several universities and seminaries and has served as the teaching pastor of a large, multiethnic church. Barna currently leads a house church. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Boston College and has graduate degrees from Rutgers University and Dallas Baptist University.

He has been married to his wife, Nancy, since 1978, and they live with their three daughters in southern California.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $24.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: BarnaBooks (April 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414324049
ISBN-13: 978-1414324043


America Is on the Path to Self-Destruction

PERHAPS you have had the heart-wrenching experience of watching helplessly as a loved one—a parent, grandparent, sibling, or close friend—has wasted away due to a debilitating disease or accident. Maybe you have worked for a company that was once vibrant, profitable, and charging into the future—only to lose its way and go out of business.

The United States is in one of those moments. Unless we, the people, can rally to restore health to this once proud and mighty nation, we have a long and disturbing decline to look forward to.

Does it surprise you to hear that our greatest enemy is not al Qaeda or the oil cartel, but America itself? Such an audacious argument is possible, however, because we have steadily and incrementally abandoned what made us a great nation.

The elements that combined to establish the United States as perhaps the most unique and enviable nation in modern history can be restored—but only if we are wise enough, collectively,

to focus on pursuing the good of society, not mere individual self-interest. It is this widespread drive to elevate self over community that has triggered our decline.

Some historians have examined the United States and concluded that it rose to prominence because of its world-class statesmen, foresighted Constitution, military might, abundant natural resources, and entrepreneurial spirit. Indisputably, such factors have significantly contributed to the establishment of a great nation. But such elements, alone, could never sustain it—especially for two-hundred-plus years!

A democracy, such as that in the United States, achieves greatness and retains its strength on the basis of the values and beliefs that fuel people’s choices. Every society adopts a body of principles that defines the national ethos and fosters its ability to withstand various challenges. Only those nations that have moral and spiritual depth, clarity of purpose and process, and nobility of heart and mind are able to persevere and triumph.1

Achieving a state of internal equilibrium that generates forward movement is no small task. It has certainly eluded hundreds upon hundreds of nations and cultures over the course of time. A walk through world history underscores the difficulty of building and sustaining national greatness. Whether we examine the stories of ancient Rome and Greece, more modern examples such as the Soviet Union, Red China, the British Empire, and post-British India, or fascist experiments such as those in Germany and Italy, the outcomes are identical. After initial excitement and cooperation, each of these nations staggered into a dramatic decline, lacking the moral and spiritual fortitude to right themselves.

Among the lessons we learn from observing the demise of formidable countries and cultures are that a nation self-destructs when

• its people cannot hold a civil conversation over matters of disagreement because they are overly possessive of their values and beliefs and too unyielding of their preferences;

• public officials and cultural leaders insist upon positioning and posturing at the expense of their opponents after the exchange of competing ideas—even though those opponents are fellow citizens with an assumed similar interest in sustaining the health of the nation;

• the public cannot agree on what constitutes goodness, morality, generosity, kindness, ethics, or beauty;

• a significant share of the electorate refuses to support legally elected officials who are faithfully upholding the Constitution and diligently pursuing the best interests of the nation;

• people lose respect for others and refuse to grant them the measure of dignity that every human being innately deserves;

• the population embraces the notion that citizens are accountable solely to themselves for their moral and ethical choices because there are no universal standards and moral leaders.

Do these descriptions strike fear in your heart? They should. Increasingly, these are attributes of twenty-first-century America. Such qualities have pushed the world’s greatest democracy to the precipice of self-annihilation. No amount of global trade or technological innovation will compensate for the loss of common vision and values that are required to bolster a mighty nation.

The dominant lifestyle patterns of Americans are a direct outgrowth of our beliefs. Operating within the boundaries of our self-determined cultural parameters, Americans live in ways that are the natural and tangible applications of what we believe to be true, appropriate, right, and valuable.

Therefore, we may not be pleased, but we ought not be surprised by the cultural chaos and moral disintegration we see and experience every day. Such conditions are the inevitable outcomes of the choices we have made that are designed to satisfy our self-interest instead of our shared interests.

For instance, when we abandon sound financial principles and take on personal debt in order to satisfy our desires for more material goods, we undermine society’s best interests. When we allow our children to absorb countless hours of morally promiscuous media content rather than limit their exposure and insist on better programming, we fail to protect our children and society’s best interests. When we create a burgeoning industry of assisted living for our elderly relatives we don’t have the time or inclination to care for, we redefine family and negate a fundamental strength of our society. When we donate less than 3 percent of our income to causes that enhance the quality and sustainability of life, our lack of generosity affects the future of our society. When we permit the blogosphere to become a rat hole of deceit, rudeness, and visual garbage, we forfeit part of the soul of our culture. When we allow “no fault” divorce to become the law of the land, as if nobody had any responsibilities in the demise of a marriage, we foster the demise of our society. When we choose to place our children in day care and prekindergarten programs for more hours than we share with them, we have made a definitive statement about what matters in our world.

Do we need to continue citing examples? Realize that all of those choices, and hundreds of others, reflect our true beliefs—not necessarily the beliefs to which we give lip service, but those to which we give behavioral support. And as we experience the hardships of a culture in transition from strength to weakness, we are merely reaping the harvest of our choices.

What has redirected us from what could be a pleasant and stable existence to one that produces widespread stress and flirts with the edge of disaster from day to day?


A country as large and complex as the United States relies upon the development of various institutions to help make sense of reality and maintain a semblance of order and purpose. For many decades, our institutions served us well. They operated in synchronization, helping to keep balance in our society while advancing our common ends.

But during the past half century many of our pivotal institutions have reeled from the effects of dramatic change. Briefly, consider the following.

• The family unit has always been the fundamental building block of American society. But the family has been severely challenged by divorce (the United States has the highest divorce rate in the developed world); cohabitation (resulting in a decline in marriage, a rise in divorce, extramarital sexual episodes, extensive physical abuse, and heightened numbers of births outside of marriage); abortions; increasing numbers of unwed mothers; and challenges to the very definition of family and marriage brought about by the demands of the homosexual population and the involvement of activist judges.

• The Christian church has been a cornerstone of American society. But research shows that churches have very limited impact on people’s lives these days.2 The loss of influence can be attributed to the confluence of many factors. These include the erosion of public confidence due to moral crises (e.g., sex scandals among Catholic priests, financial failings among TV preachers); the paucity of vision-driven leadership; growing doubts about the veracity and reliability of the Bible; a nearly universal reliance upon vacuous indicators of ministry impact (i.e., attendance, fundraising, breadth of programs, number of employees, size of buildings and facilities); ministry methods and models that hinder effective learning and interpersonal connections; innocuous and irregular calls to action; and counterproductive competition among churches as well as parachurch ministries. Fewer and fewer Americans think of themselves as members of a churchbased faith community, as followers of a specific deity or faith, or as fully committed to being models of the faith they embrace.

• Public schools have transitioned from training children to possess good character and strong academic skills to producing young people who score well on standardized achievement tests and thereby satisfy government funding criteria. In the process, we have been exposed to values-free education, values-clarification training, and other educational approaches that promote a group of divergent worldviews as if they all possessed equal merit. In the meantime, our students have lost out on learning how to communicate effectively, and they consistently trail students from other countries in academic fundamentals such as reading, writing, mathematics, and science.

• Government agencies have facilitated the acceleration of cultural dissonance. An example is the values-neutral admittance of millions of immigrants. Historically, immigration has been one of the greatest reflections of the openness of America to embrace and work alongside people who share the fundamental ideals of our democracy and are eager to assimilate into the dominant American culture. Over the past quarter century, however, a larger share of the immigrants seeking to make the United States their homeland has come ashore with a different agenda: living a more comfortable and secure life without having to surrender their native culture (e.g., language, values, beliefs, customs, relationships, or behaviors). Rather than adopting the fundamentals that made America strong as part of their assimilation and naturalization process, growing numbers of them expect America to accept their desire to retain that which they personally feel most comfortable with, even though it is at odds with the mainstream experience that produced the nation to which they were attracted.3

Our institutions have been further challenged by other cultural realities. For instance, digital technology—computers, mobile phones, the Internet, digital cameras, video recorders, and the like—has created an opinionated population that has become more narrow-minded and isolated even in the midst of an avalanche of information and relational connections.4 That same technology has fostered an unprecedented degree of global awareness and interactivity within generations, while at the same time birthing new forms of discrimination and marginalization.

Even the nation’s economic transformation, moving from a world-class manufacturing nation to a country that consumes imported products and demands personal services, has altered our self-perceptions, national agenda, and global role.


The weakening of our institutions has freed the public to seize upon a revised assortment of values. An examination of the entire cluster gives a pretty sobering perspective on the new American mentality. As you will quickly realize, most of the elements in the emerging values set lead to the new focal point for America: self.

Consider the values transitions described below, along with the shifts in behavior that accompany the newly embraced perspectives, and ask yourself if any of them ring true.

From voluntary accountability to belligerent autonomy

Freedom traditionally implied that we were responsible to those whom we placed in authority—although we still had abundant opportunities to express our views and concerns, and to replace those whose leadership failed to live up to our expectations. In recent years, however, our perspectives on authority and accountability have changed to the point where many of us consider ourselves to be free agents, responsible only to ourselves. We resent others—individuals, family, public officials, organizations, society—who place restrictions and limitations upon us, no matter how reasonable or necessary they may be. When people agree to be held accountable these days, such interaction is not so much about being held to predetermined standards as it is about providing explanations and justifications for the behavior in question, in order to produce absolution. Anyone who gets in the way of our autonomy runs the risk of being called out for such audacity and being cited for offenses such as censorship, fundamentalism, prudishness, narrow-mindedness, or intolerance.

From responsibilities to rights

From the earliest days of the republic, our nation’s leaders accepted the notion that the freedom we fought for in the establishment of the nation could only be maintained if people were willing to accept the responsibilities and duties required to extend such freedom. Consequently, for many decades Americans have carried out the obligations of good citizens: obeying the law, supporting social institutions and leaders, mutually sacrificing, committing to the common good, exercising personal virtue and morality, and the like. To advance freedom, the health of the society must supersede the desires of the individual. But things have changed dramatically. People’s concern these days is ensuring

that they receive the benefits of the rights they perceive to be theirs. Standing in the way of such rights brings on threats of legal action; a lawsuit is now the default response to conditions that limit one’s experiences. Ensuring the exercise of personal rights is the primary concern; exercising and protecting community rights are of secondary consideration.

From respect and dignity to incivility and arrogance

Historically, we have maintained that every person is worthy of respect and dignity. In contrast, increasing numbers of Americans these days are more likely to treat people with suspicion, indifference,

or impatience. Americans have long had an international reputation for rudeness, but our levels of impolite behavior have escalated substantially in recent years. Beyond discourtesy, we have become a society that is frequently and quickly critical of others. Rather than searching for the goodness in people, we are quick to point out their flaws and weaknesses. We have little patience with those who fail to live up to our expectations, and we have no hesitation in expressing our disapproval, regardless of the circumstances.

From discernment to tolerance

One of the most undesirable labels in our society is that of being judgmental. To avoid that critique, we have moved to the opposite extreme, allowing people to do whatever they please, as long as their choices do not put us directly in harm’s way. In essence, we have abandoned discernment in favor of a self-protective permissiveness.

This practice, of course, pushes us to the brink of anarchy, made all the more possible by our adoption of belligerent autonomy.

From pride in production to the joy of consumption

For decades, American citizens derived great satisfaction from the fruit of their labors and extolled the virtues of productivity. However, the source of pride now is in what we own or lease—the material goods that define our station in life and reflect our capacity to consume. In the past, a job was something that allowed us to add value to society and to participate in the work of a unified team. Now, growing numbers of people perceive their job to be a necessary evil, little more than a means to the end of acquiring the tangible items that may bring pleasure or prestige. As a result, the quality of our work efforts is seen as being less important than the rewards generated by those efforts. The hallowed concept of excellence has been left in the dust in our haste to embrace “adequacy” as the new standard for performance.

From contribution and sacrifice to comfort and fulfillment

Most Americans now perceive the ultimate purpose of life to be enjoying a comfortable lifestyle while possessing a positive self image and a sense of fulfillment. The nature of one’s contribution to society—i.e., what we do to advance the good of society—is thought of as a bonus, if any such contribution is made at all.

People rarely consider it necessary—or even the mark of a good citizen—to sacrifice personal benefits or resources for the good of their community or nation, whether that is practiced through political involvement, environmentalism, financial responsibility, child-rearing practices, or other means. Unless such practices produce personal comfort and fulfillment, they are considered strictly optional behavior.

From trust to skepticism

Knowing that truth is not always considered a virtue and that truth is now widely assumed to be whatever the speaker defines it to be—regardless of the facts—Americans are more cautious and caustic these days. What used to be called healthy skepticism has now blossomed into full-blown doubt. Incapable of placing complete confidence in what we are told, we are reticent to trust others. Their motives (selfish) and words (misleading) must now be run through a filter that prevents us from taking

things at face value, resulting in constant tension about who and what to believe. Rather than giving someone the benefit of the doubt, the default position is to reserve our right to remain skeptical. That same degree of mistrust has even diminished our willingness to believe religious teachings, whether from “reliable sources” such as the Bible or from other authorities.

From intellect and character to fame and image

Who were the heroes in years past? Often they were people whose intellect and commitment to improving the human condition produced value for our society: scientists, engineers, theorists,

doctors, professors, and the like. Those people introduced lifechanging innovations and solutions to our culture. They were joined in the winner’s circle by parents, who were celebrated for their commitment to raising moral children and honorable citizens whose firm foundations of goodness would ensure the

strength of the nation for years to come. Today these heroes have been unceremoniously replaced by a revolving door of simpleminded celebrities whose partying exploits, marital failures, materialistic excesses, relational squabbles, and fashion faux pas capture the attention of the tabloids and paparazzi.

We have traded substance for superficiality, intelligence for style, and hard work for merely showing up at hip locations. Celebrities hire image consultants to ensure that the appeal of their public personae extends their fifteen minutes of fame. They influence the gullible public to pursue unreasonable body shapes

and expensive clothing, use incorrect or inappropriate language, and embrace dubious ideas about life. In the process, edginess, extravagance, and national recognition have trumped the values of character and intelligence.

From moral absolutes to moral relativism

Apparently, when Jesus Christ told people to “let your ‘ Yes’ be ‘ Yes,’ and your ‘ No,’ ‘No,’ ”5 that was not what He really meant—at least, according to contemporary Americans. During the past quarter century there has been a massive shift away from the acceptance of moral absolutes (i.e., things are right or wrong, regardless of the situation) to acceptance of moral relativism (i.e., there are no absolute moral standards, so everything depends on what we each decide is right or wrong based on our own personal convictions and current situations). This has affected judicial decisions, government policies, business strategies, personal relationships, financial dealings—in short, everything imaginable. There are fewer and fewer situations in which conventional morality prevails. Life is now more anxiety ridden

because there is no predictability or consistency regarding right and wrong.

Remember, we act out what we believe. Values form the core of our actionable perspectives. The evolution of American society is thus a reflection of this morphing of our values, changing everything about what we believe to be acceptable, valuable, desirable, and even holy.


This movement in our thinking and behavior has even affected our aspirations. As we dream of the future we will pursue, we’ve adopted a new set of life goals.

As recently as the 1970s, Americans were dedicated to becoming good citizens; raising children with proper character and morals; knowing and living according to accepted moral truths; experiencing and appreciating beauty in art and nature; living with integrity; supporting family members in all dimensions of life; and performing all tasks and responsibilities with excellence. The notion of living the good life centered on fitting into one’s world as a productive, reliable member of a caring society.6

If that profile seems anachronistic to you, it’s because our notion of the good life received a serious makeover. The dominant goals of Americans these days are achieving a comfortable lifestyle; having as many exciting or unique experiences as possible; feeling good about oneself; having ample options from which to choose in all dimensions of life; being able to participate in everything that is personally meaningful or appealing; developing and maintaining a positive public image; and avoiding

pain or sacrifice.

You don’t need an advanced degree to notice that the focus of our goals has taken a 180-degree turn. We are less interested in the good of society than in the promotion and protection of self. We are not as committed to making a societal contribution as we are to ensuring personal comfort and satisfaction. We would like to do well at our assigned or necessary tasks, but we are more committed to having great experiences and adventures than to fulfilling our responsibilities with certifiable excellence.

If you doubt the reality of this shift, talk to anyone who has owned a business for the past thirty years about the change in the dedication and quality standards of the workforce. Or you could speak to veteran teachers about the motivations of students. Try questioning marriage counselors about the nature of the conversations they have with adults whose marriages are on the rocks. Professionals whose work gives them insight into the nature of our culture will confirm the data that describe the reshaping of the mind and heart of America.

Another vantage point regarding who we have become—and are still becoming—is offered by people outside of the American experience. Sometimes we are too close to a situation to see it clearly; more objective perceptions are best provided by observers who are more physically removed from the situation. That’s exactly what is provided by global surveys of attitudes. Several recent international research projects provided an outsider’s view of American society. While the views of such people include various biases and assumptions—e.g., predispositions about Americans, our government, and our cultural preferences, all filtered through the survey respondent’s own predispositions and preferences—the perceived decline in America’s character comes through loud and clear. Europeans, South Americans, Asians, and Africans generally see us as insensitive, materialistic, self-absorbed, and superficially religious.7


Certainly, we have changed in meaningful ways. But no cultural transformation happens in a vacuum, and it is implausible that a national redefinition of this magnitude could have happened without some foundations being monumentally altered. In this case, the floodgates of our cultural transformation were pried open by our willingness to entertain—and eventually to adopt—alternative worldviews.

A worldview is simply the mental and emotional filter that each person embraces and uses to make sense of and respond to the world. Everyone has a worldview. Few have thought much about it

or where it comes from, and even fewer can articulate the contents of their own worldview. But every person’s life is a result of his or her worldview. And every nation’s character is a product of the cumulative worldviews possessed and incarnated by its people.

In the 1950s and earlier, the dominant worldview in the United States might be characterized as Judeo-Christian. Most of the moral standards of the nation were based on Judeo-Christian principles

regarding matters such as purpose, fairness, justice, value, goodness, beauty, relationships, family, generosity, evil, authority, compassion, and faith. While our nation has always had a multitude of faith groups and life philosophies resident within its shores, the past forty years in particular have seen the influx and acceptance of a variety of worldviews that are at odds with the historical foundations on which the country was built.

Because our worldviews direct our words and actions, this national transformation of our worldviews has changed life as we know it. Or, more correctly, knew it.

With the social upheaval that was ushered in during the sixties, everything was up for grabs—including the national sense of morality, spirituality, values, traditions, and lifestyle habits. To this day we are still experimenting and tinkering with our worldview: it remains a work in progress. But enough change has occurred that we can now see—and every day we encounter—the implications of this seismic shift in how we experience, interpret, and react to our world.

The bottom line is simply this: the substitution of alternative worldviews for the traditional Judeo-Christian version is responsible for America incrementally destroying itself. Gone are the

days in which consensus was respected or personal views were maintained within the context of a different dominant worldview. Increasingly, we demand that the world embrace the worldview we possess or we respond in hostile ways: public criticism, nasty blogs and text messages, lawsuits, angry letters to public officials or professional associations, confrontational letters to the editor, damage to property, or other means of retaliation.

The element that facilitated a stable, consensual worldview in the past was the consistency of the religious beliefs of Americans. For more than two centuries, Americans generally held to some form of a Judeo-Christian perspective. Those who did not share such a perspective understood that while they could hold their divergent worldviews, theirs would remain a respected minority view. There was a recognized cultural accommodation in which the majority and minority allowed each other their space and respective social and political standing.

But even though four out of five Americans still consider themselves to be Christians, the prevailing accommodation has been scrapped as the proponents of each alternative worldview have battled for supremacy. Our long-held worldview moorings have been assaulted and have lost ground to alternative perspectives. The problem is not that a general lack of faith or absence of personal theology has undermined the Judeo-Christian worldview.

The underlying issue is that those who normally would have defended and advanced the predominant worldview have succumbed to the lure of alternative perspectives that promise greater freedom and fewer restrictions.

This nation’s spiritual beliefs are constantly evolving and morphing. At this moment in time, the fundamental beliefs on which the nation was founded are no longer the central tenets on which our country operates.8 As we will see in subsequent chapters, basic ideals about God have been radically challenged, to the point where people no longer know what to believe and are warned not to speak in public about “Him/Her/Them/It.” The idea of something being sacred—whether it be in reference to books (e.g., the Bible, Koran, Book of Mormon), beings (e.g., Jesus, Buddha), or places (e.g., Jerusalem, Mecca)—has been reduced from the extraordinary to the ordinary. The importance of following through on spiritual commitments, whether to God or to one’s faith community, typically takes a backseat to other, more pressing commitments.


To get a good understanding of the existing and evolving worldview mosaic, we must take a serious look at the dominant spiritual groups in America. I will refer to these as our faith tribes, based on the fact that the religious history of most Americans—Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even Mormons—describes the various segments of each faith as tribes. A tribe, after all, is a group of people who are united by common beliefs, customs, and traditions; who follow a common leader; and who consider themselves to be a community based on these shared realities.

Religious beliefs and convictions provide the central spectrum of ideas from which our worldview is developed. Getting inside the mind and heart of the major faith tribes will provide the necessary insight into how our existing worldviews came about, why we cling to them, and where they are headed.

Based on extensive segmentation analysis of the spiritual beliefs and practices of more than thirty thousand U.S. adults whom The Barna Group interviewed, we concluded that the United States is home to more than two hundred different religious faiths and denominations but is dominated by seven faith tribes. Naturally, each tribe has distinct segments within it that deviate from the dominant ways of thinking and acting, but these tribes, by and large, are cohesive masses. They range in size from several million to tens of millions of people.

A large majority of Americans are Casual Christians. These are people who profess to be Christian but are notably lax in their beliefs and practices. Casuals represent two-thirds of all American adults. There are variations within this sizable spiritual class, but overall the segment is surprisingly consistent in numerous dimensions of spirituality and in their attitudes and lifestyle choices.

Their counterpart are the Captive Christians—those whose consistently biblical beliefs and Christlike behavior validate their commitment to being followers of Christ. Captives constitute one-sixth of the adult population. They are characterized by a deeper, more intentional devotion to the principles and practices they embrace from the Bible. They are the segment within Christianity that is most likely to be caricatured by the media and by politicians, two groups that greatly misunderstand the motivations and objectives of Captives.

The rest of the nation is divided into five other faith tribes. Jewish people make up roughly 2 percent of the adult public. The percentage of Mormons is slightly smaller than that, though its adherents are strikingly unified in their ideology and practice. Pantheists—a combination of adherents to Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, etc.), along with those who have adopted the American hybrid we think of as New Age beliefs—are also slightly less than 2 percent of the public. Muslims, while growing in number, make up considerably less than one percent of the American population, but they represent a significant, if controversial, point of view on the faith spectrum. That leaves the largest of the non-Christian tribes: the Skeptics. These folks, nearly 11 percent strong, are atheists or agnostics. They are, in essence, religiously irreligious.

We will explore each of these tribes in relation to key dimensions—demographics, religious beliefs and behaviors, self-image, attitudes and perceptions, lifestyle routines, morals, family realities, and political perspectives and patterns. These insights will enable us to delve into the various worldviews that Americans possess and then discuss how we can restore health to our republic. The required solutions are not political or economic. We need spiritual wisdom backed by a mutual commitment to live up to the chief aims of our respective faith perspectives.


You may be wondering what there is to talk about if one tribe alone—the Casual Christians—represents two out of every three Americans. By dwarfing all other tribes, isn’t a book about the effect of faith in America really just a book about the Casuals?

Yes and no.

By sheer weight of numbers, the Casuals define the status quo. This group is, in a very real sense, the eight-hundred-pound gorilla that establishes the standards of the moral and spiritual life of the United States. In every respect, until something happens to intentionally alter matters, theirs is the default condition for the country.

To use a more familiar analogy, the Casuals are akin to the place of the Caucasian population in the United States. Each currently represents two-thirds of the population. Both groups are so numerous and familiar to everyone that they largely go unnoticed, but their significance is felt every moment of every day, whether we are conscious of it or not.

But in keeping with this analogy, recognize that they also represent a moving target for the smaller segments whose demographics, dreams, and desires are different from those of the behemoth. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other ethnic and racial populations may be

dwarfed by the Caucasian constituency, but they are never rendered irrelevant or powerless simply by being outnumbered. They simply have to try harder to get recognition, power, and favor in a country where they are minorities. And as our history shows, that is difficult but doable.

Is it truly possible for tribes that represent as little as one half of one percent of this massive country (i.e., Muslims) to overcome the standing of the group that encompasses 66 percent of the public? Absolutely! There are four significant reasons why small tribes have the potential to do so.

First, in a true democracy, everyone has a say. Sometimes even the tiniest voice speaks truths that others resonate with. With the prolific access to vehicles of communication in this country, and given the energetic defense of the freedom to express one’s views, every tribe has the opportunity to make its case.

Second, influence is often magnified through dynamic partnerships in which multiple minor players coordinate their efforts to exert impact that transcends their numbers. The mosaic of our population is increasingly characterized by connections across lines—racial, political, economic, religious, and geographic. It is common these days to see coalitions of groups that have never before worked together to break through preexisting barriers to jointly pursue outcomes that are important to all of them.

Third, one of the most powerful ways of influencing today’s population is through modeling. People learn by example. Habits and predispositions are challenged by example. Trends are ignited by a relative handful of people who do something that grabs attention and generates interest.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, never underestimate the power of passion. Groups pursuing outcomes that they are willing to fight for with every resource they can muster often generate

results far beyond the expectations of those who observe their battle with indifference or amusement.

For example, if it were up to the white majority during the middle of the last century, the African American community would still be living in segregated neighborhoods and dealing with a network of isolated social institutions, working for substandard pay in untenable conditions. During the civil rights movement of the sixties and seventies, the African American population was a mere one out of every ten Americans. In terms of raw numbers, they had little hope of changing the mores of this nation.

But because the United States is a democracy whose Constitution promises all people specific rights that give them a place at the table and the right to pursue their dreams, African Americans had a chance to change the larger social context. Through the strategic deployment of various legal means—such as peaceful demonstrations, political lobbying, media influence, boycotts, and prayer—they were able to make their case to the public and to work through the political system. They created viable partnerships with a broad coalition of external groups—churches, other minority populations, various political groups, and associations—to advance their cause. And they were able to defeat overwhelming odds, and endure great injustices en route, to gain ground. African Americans stood firmly behind their

leaders and refused to back down, even when it meant physical pain or other personal hardships. Their unflagging passion, directed by brilliant leaders and channeled through the sacrificial participation of a relative handful of African American people, enabled them to rewrite the well-established norms of a

global superpower.

A current example of how a minuscule group can have a big voice in a cacophonous society is the experience of the gay community. Although gay people are no more than 3 percent to 5 per cent of the adult population, the nation is in tumult over their demands for marriage rights and other changes in policies that affect their lives. Taking a page from the playbook of the civil rights movement, the gay population has used the freedoms and rights provided by the Constitution to its advantage, enabling its members to get the public’s attention and persuade an increasingly sympathetic society to see things their way. Tens of millions of Americans who will never engage in or even consider embracing homosexual behaviors are nevertheless leaning toward or fully supportive of an array of new laws and policies that will satisfy the desires of the gay movement.

Sometimes the giant is vulnerable to the midget. The giant takes such great comfort in its size that it ignores or dismisses things that will eventually return to haunt it. And sometimes the same magnitude that has given the giant reason for comfort becomes the very attribute that disables the behemoth from responding in a timely, strategic, or otherwise effective manner.


An inescapable fact of our society is that the vast majority of Americans are connected to Christianity to some degree. And yet, as further testimony to the fact that size is not everything, one of the disturbing conditions in present-day America is that no tribe—not even the Casual or Captive Christians—is allowed to freely pursue its faith without undue interference.

Like all faith tribes, Christian-based tribes must satisfy certain cultural requirements in order to live in a Christlike manner, which is their core spiritual mandate. Among those are to consistently worship their God, to obey His commands as outlined in the Bible, to serve God and people in meaningful ways, and to generously give and receive love. The nation’s democracy was supposed to provide such opportunities to the Christians who sacrificed so much to establish the United States. The desire to experience such freedoms was one of the precipitating motivations for establishing independence from British rule.

Some readers will be surprised to hear that the Christian based tribes in the United States do not currently have those freedoms and abilities. Similarly, in a country that is predicated upon delivering specified rights and their attendant freedoms to all of its citizens, other faith tribes suffer the indignity and injustice of being prevented from exercising those rights as their faith would lead them to.

If you doubt this, please read the biology textbooks used in many government-funded (i.e., public) schools, which make no bones about critiquing Christianity, eliminating faith-based views in favor of science-based explanations, or promoting “safe sex” rather than the biblical alternative of sexual abstinence. Consider the implications of laws that diminish the value of human life or redefine the biblical standard of marriage. Take note of government threats to, or restrictions on, families that homeschool their children for moral or religious reasons. Think about the implication of laws requiring Christian ministries to hire employees who reject their beliefs or who practice lifestyles that visibly and unapologetically conflict with the moral convictions of the ministry. Talk to Christian graduate students around the nation and discover how many of them jeopardize their advanced degrees or scholarly careers if they admit to believing in creationism. How many high school graduation speeches were altered this year by laws preventing students from incorporating their religious beliefs into their remarks? In certain states, Bibles are not allowed in the public school classroom.

These are but a handful of the incendiary examples of how the religious freedoms of just one of the tribes are trampled in the alleged interest of freedom. How we handle these issues has consistently divided the tribes within our country.


Please do not miss where I’m headed with this argument. America was not meant to be a theocracy—that is, ruled by a given religious tribe. The dominant spiritual classes in our society should neither possess nor expect to have the final say on all legal and moral matters. In fact, our research consistently shows that Christians in America appreciate their neighbors who belong to other faith tribes; they simply do not want their own ability to serve their God limited by the discomfort or desires of those other tribes any more than the minority tribes want their freedoms to be limited or negated by the larger tribal groups.

In an odd way we have reached a stalemate. Significantly, our research indicates that the United States is presently a nation in which

• none of our faith tribes feel they are able to freely practice their faith without breaking laws or upsetting members of other tribes;

• each tribe feels that the other tribes do not understand what their faith is about and that they cannot get other tribes to give them a fair hearing;

• the freedoms of tribes to practice their faith and hold their particular beliefs are being eliminated by whichever tribe outmaneuvers the others within the political and legal arenas;

• tribal leadership has become more about political prowess exercised in the public domain than about the provision of spiritual and moral guidance within the confines of the tribe;

• people’s inability to experience the religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution is causing them to feel as if the nation is losing its heart and soul, and along with that, its greatness.

The problem facing America is not the presence of divergent faith tribes. For many years, the United States has had a diverse spiritual palette—and has been one of the most revered and successful

nations on earth because of it. The experience of other nations further confirms that being home to multiple faith tribes is not necessarily an issue. In fact, one could make a compelling argument that it is healthy to have a variety of faith perspectives resident in the same marketplace of ideas and lifestyles.

Faith tribes need not be adversarial; religious conflict is not so much an inevitable product of the differing principles of each tribe as it is a reflection of other values and factors driving the mother culture.

As we witness the deterioration of America, we have to ask the tough questions regarding why a once proud, stable, mighty country is now succumbing to shrill internecine battles over matters that could be creatively and amicably resolved. Based on an extensive examination of data and other cultural information, I’d like to offer a perspective for your consideration.


Everyone has some type of religious faith. That faith shapes our worldviews. Those worldviews dictate the values we embrace. These values influence the choices we make and the lives we lead.

The United States is a land in which there are competing worldviews and values, which produce diverse lifestyles and expectations. The breadth of worldviews and values that reside within the nation are partly responsible for the variety that has enabled the country to continue to play a major role on the world stage.

But that variety can sometimes create a gulf between what makes for a strong and cohesive nation and one that is satisfied simply to feel good in the moment. America is faced with this dilemma today: should we demonstrate restraint and invest in cross-tribal relationships in order to remain a strong and vibrant nation over the long run, or should we give in to our desire to take the road that demands less now but will likely lead to our demise in the future?

Human history shows that sometimes we forget that what is possible and what is fruitful are two different things. America appears to be at a juncture in history where we have to clarify the shared values that are advantageous and the divergent viewpoints that could ultimately harm the nation.


This book addresses what some of my friends have characterized as a “big idea.” I want you to know that it is not simply a thought that has germinated in my mind for a while before I decided to commit

it to paper. The concepts presented in these pages were borne from more than one million dollars’ worth of research.

For the past quarter century, I have been studying the role of faith in American society. From the nationwide surveys investigating people’s faith that my company regularly conducts with representative samples of one thousand or more adults, I have developed an extensive sense of what makes Americans tick. Each of our surveys includes a standard battery of theolographic questions—inquiries regarding what they believe, how they practice their faith, the role of faith, how it becomes integrated into their daily experience, and so forth.

For this book, I combined the results from a number of surveys, using the common theolographic questions as the foundation through which to filter a very wide range of attitudes, behaviors, values, and perceptions expressed in the various surveys. In total, I had the opportunity to slice and dice the population in relation to more than 500 different measurement criteria (576 distinct variables, to be exact). Using various statistical techniques, I found that Americans’ faith can be categorized into a series of segments, which we will refer to as the seven tribes. And it is on the basis

of the information related to each tribe that I will be describing what is happening in our society today. Please note that this is not a book of personal opinions but a compilation of thousands of opinions culled from the people being profiled. I realize that not every member of any tribe thinks or behaves in exactly the same way. However, by providing an overview of each faith group, I believe we can come to a better understanding of what unites us. (For more information about the procedures used, read appendix 4, which describes our research methodology.)


Having made the argument that America is on a crash course for self-destruction, we can either sit back and watch, complicit in the collapse, or we can strategically attempt to revitalize the nation. Toward the latter course of action, let’s take a strategic journey into the following areas.

Stage one

Identify and study the faith tribes: who they are, what they believe, how they live, and what they are passionate about. From this exploration we will be able to better identify and understand the core values that drive the nation—and may serve as the route to a better future.

Stage two

Identify and examine the prevalent worldviews that America’s faith tribes embrace and determine what each body of beliefs and convictions adds to the American condition. Given our philosophical

leanings, we can then identify common values and principles that satisfy the views of the seven tribes. Acknowledging and pursuing those shared values can facilitate the healing and restoration of our nation. The necessary dialogue that must occur could revolve around our shared commitment to these ideals.

Stage three

Explore the reasons behind the failure of American leaders and institutions—political, religious, and family—to unite the nation around a set of shared values and goals. Consider why they’ve been unable to maintain a healthy and robust dialogue around the critical dimensions of modern life. Beyond such analysis, though, we will consider action steps that each of those critical entities could take to move America toward restoration.

Stage four

Americans are fighting wars on many fronts: financial, moral, religious, educational, military, familial, and so forth. We will end this journey with a challenge to adopt a common view of where we, as a nation, can go in unison. Accepting and mastering the challenge will then allow us to become better world citizens. The United States will face continued crises and challenges, but if the people of this republic can learn to share a set of values and goals that resonate with our most deeply held convictions, we will be better equipped to handle the trials and exploit the opportunities that arise.


Hundreds of once-great societies have risen and collapsed in the face of similar challenges. From history, we can learn how to sidestep the tribulations that led to their demise. It is a multifaceted challenge that requires everyone, not just our best and our brightest, to participate in the solution. Greatness never comes by the government or charismatic leaders coercing the people to get in line. Cultural endurance is not the result of endless experimentation and self-indulgence. A satisfied citizenry does not emerge from being pampered and spared the hard work of investing in and sustaining democratic principles and practices.

If the United States is to enter its fourth century as a strong and enduring nation, it must embrace and embody the selfless values that carried the country through its first two-plus centuries of freedom and fulfillment. We are indeed a resilient nation, but if we insist on shedding communal sensibilities in favor of personal liberty and self-satisfaction, we will experience an agonizing demise. If, however, we remember that there is a greater good, indeed a higher calling, that we can collectively achieve, we can effectively contribute to making our nation and the entire world a better place.

Faith, shared values, compassionate and empathetic dialogue, visionary leadership, healthy families—these are the components of restoration that must be harnessed for the common good. We have the capacity. Will we use it?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Those leaves

Because the cliche is so familiar, I've sometimes let it color my thinking.

You know how we compare our lives to the seasons, so that a young man is like the spring. A mature man is summertime and onward to the elderly, who are like winter. You know the rhythm of new life in spring, usually accompanied by buds and fresh blossoms. Then summer focuses on broad green leaves followed by the rich golds and oranges of fall leaves.

But winter is the time of brown dead leaves falling uselessly to the ground.

That isn't a hopeful image for us as we continue to clock up the years of our lives. Do we believe that image, that the end of our life falls, like dead leaves, uselessly to the ground?

As my body ages, I find that my mind wants to bear fruit. I want to be the tree planted in the living water of God's word, drawing from God's life and wonder. Is that my proud humanity, refusing the face the reality of time?

Well, there's another image in the Psalms. Look at this:

They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, "The LORD is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him."
Psalms 92:14-15

God never intended for our last years to be as useless as dry leaves but fruitful to our exit to heaven.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

God's story

Story is about principles, not rules.
-Robert McKee, Story

Even a quick thumbing through the pages shows that the Bible is filled with stories. Other religious books tend to embrace lists of rules but God preferred stories to convey his truths.

Stories are not necessarily fiction and I don’t mean to imply that the biblical accounts are fictional.

I’ve been reading Robert McKee’s book, Story, which is considered a classic in screenwriting. McKee starts the book with the statement above.

A rule directs us: “Do it this way.” A principle says, “This works and have worked many times.”

A story frees us from formulas to discover principles. The first biblical story, which reveals God creating a beginning and time and matter, does not have a check list of rules.

Instead, the story gives us images:
  • In the beginning, God…
  • From chaos, God bringing order.
  • God is light, conquering darkness.
  • God rules heaven and earth
  • The spirit of God sweeping over the earth.
And really, that’s what we need to know. We understand instantly that God preceded time, that he always has existed, that he created.

We resonate with stories, which is how God wired us. We learn well through stories and God teaches well through stories.

To McKee, the story inspires us as it “seeks to order chaos and gain insight into life.”

God’s stories do that: find meaning out of chaos and give us insights for living. Enjoy God’s stories, knowing that they bring us truth about God’s nature and ours.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Recently our family had a discussion about freedom vs. safety. Well, actually, we were discussing the Vikings plundering land through Europe in the Middle Ages. These wild men came to a village and did hideous things: rape, pillage, plunder, murder. Then they burned whatever was left.

We talked about the fear when a village knew they were coming. Many villagers submitted to a feudal state, where they gave up their freedom to a lord who promised them protection and safety.

I asked my teenage daughter to write a short essay on this subject of freedom vs. safety. Here’s what she wrote:

“What would do when the Vikings come here?” these villagers would ask themselves. “Who will we turn to?” The offer of protection would be very appealing to these frightened people.

The cost? The loss of freedom. They would submit themselves to their lord and do whatever he wanted whenever he called. In return, they would be safe and alive after the Vikings passed.

What would we do today?

What good is freedom if we’re dead?

As I look at this story, I see a clear image of what our lives in Christ should look like. We are being invaded by an enemy we can’t fight. He is plundering our lives, taking everything he can.

“What will we do when he comes?” we ask ourselves. “Who will we turn to?”

The offer of protection that Christ gives is very appealing. The cost? The loss of freedom. We submit ourselves to our Lord and do whatever he wants whenever he calls. In return, we will be safe and alive after the enemy passes.

What do you say?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Closing in

Wilma had a party when she was 89 because she hoped to dance before God's throne by her 90th birthday. But God had other plans so, when the 90th rolled around, she flew to Florida to visit friends.

You feel the joy of the Lord when you're around Wilma. She claps her hands with delight and hugs the young man in black leather, studs, and tattoos. She kisses the babies and presses her hands against my cheeks when she asks for prayer. Although she's served God for many years, she's brutally candid about her own doubts and mistakes. With her sweet southern drawl, she always honors God.

But today she's in the hospital, awaiting treatments for a tumor and leukemia. She's anxious to meet her Heavenly Father.

Several of us are praying and fasting.
She wants us to pray for her family but we're selfish: we pray more for her. We'd like the joy of her presence for a few more years. Please join me in asking for God's mercy on her family. And a little prayer for her health would be appreciated, too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Black irises

Edna has to bring her magnifying glass to every Bible study but she hasn't missed a meeting in over a year. During the weekly discussion, she holds her Bible closely to her face, the magnifier mashed against her nose, and follows along, her shoulders bowed over the book.

She doesn't say much during the studies so I was surprised when she asked if we could all sit for a moment while she brought something to show us. A couple of minutes later, she rolled her walker back into the room with a flower vase in hand.

"Have any of you ever seen a black iris?" she asked. We hadn't but we all crowded in close to see the flowers. "They just cut these down," she said excitedly, pointing to the back of the property where the gardener had been cleaning out some debris.

Edna had rescued the irises from the trash pile. But she has that kind of heart. Earlier this spring, she'd planted a few petunias into an empty flower pot in the courtyard. And she'd secured a spot for a geranium when another pot sat empty.

Edna is 92 years old and shuffles with the help of her walker. But she hauled pitchers of waters out to the courtyard daily to tend to the seeds she'd planted.

"I've had flowers my whole life," she explained to the group, grinning broadly.

Jesus reminded his disciples that the flowers don't work or worry, yet they are clothed in beauty. Edna was God's hand to the rare irises last week and I think that she, too, is clothed in God's beauty.

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

Luke 12:27

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A teenage boy's view

Yesterday, I promised you a review on the book Evolution: The Grand Experiment by Carl Werner. Since the book is aimed at teenage readers, I asked my 13-year-old son to read and review it. Here's his viewpoint:

So this is a book review for the book Evolution: The Grand Experiment Volume 1 by Dr Carl Werner. Overall for the book, I really liked it. The text is easy to read, the pictures are excellent, and the facts are awesome. I really enjoy reading about facts, so the more jaw dropping facts there are in a book the better. But sometimes the text boxes are almost unnoticeable because it’s a small black square in this elaborate, multi pictured scene. So I missed some text going through it the first time. And some chapters are a little lengthy.

But graphs, pictures, quotes, and symbols were done well. I enjoyed many parts where it was questioning evolution by comparing the 2+ animals to make the ‘evolved creature’. The drop shadows were an excellent touch to the square and round images.

Overall, I would definitely suggest this book to anyone who would be interested at all. It’s easy to read, the photography is outstanding, template is excellent as it isn’t too crowded, and it disproves evolution without proof-texting information.

There ya go!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Evolution: The Grand Experiment

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

This is a beautiful book with glossy attractive pages and many, many facts for readers to enjoy. Because this is written for students, I'm posting a review from my 13-year-old son tomorrow. But this is a very good resource.

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Evolution: The Grand Experiment: Vol. 2 - Living Fossils

New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press (March 10, 2009)


Dr. Carl Werner received his undergraduate degree in biology with distinction at the University of Missouri, graduating summa cum laude. He received his doctorate in medicine at the age of 23. He was the recipient of the Norman D. Jones Science Award and is both the author of Evolution: The Grand Experiment book and executive producer of Evolution: The Grand Experiment video series.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $29.99
Hardcover: 274 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press (March 10, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0892216913
ISBN-13: 978-0892216918


Chapter 1 – The Bet That Would Change My Life

My lifelong interest in evolution began with an innocuous bet over dinner.

It is said to have a proper story, three essential components are required: a beginning, a middle and an end. While I will adequately provide you with a beginning (my story begins with a bet in medical school), and a middle (which leads to an incredible 30-year journey), I hesitate to say that my story has an “ending” for two reasons. First, I have more information I would eventually like to share with you, (Volumes III and IV of this series); and second, my version of an ending doesn’t really matter. As the author, I would prefer you write the ending. When you finish, you need to ask yourself: Has my perception of the past been changed?

Before I get into the specifics of how I became fascinated with the theory of evolution, you need to understand my background.

I was born in 1959 in a large Midwestern city and raised Catholic. I attended Catholic grade school and high school. Through my early years, I believed in the creation story, and the Bible stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, etc. I had no reason to doubt them and, of course, no one gave me any other options.

It was in my later high school years, between the ages of 15 and 17, that I found myself drifting away from my religious ideas and beliefs. This was my state of affairs when I was accepted to an accelerated college and medical school at the relatively young age of 17.

My first class in med school was physiology. Here, the professor taught us the evolutionary principle of “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny” created by Dr. Ernst Haeckel in the late 1800’s.

I had never heard of this concept and neither could I pronounce it. Fortunately, the professor had the class repeat the phrase “On-todge-en-knee Re-ca-pit-you-lates Fi-lodge-in-knee” over and over until we could say it smoothly and efficiently like a machine gun spitting out bullets at a thousand rounds per minute. He proceeded to explain what it meant: Prior to birth, animals retrace the history of evolution in their embryonic stages. For example, humans had their origin in a single-cell bacterium, which evolved into an invertebrate like a jellyfish, then a fish, then an amphibian, a reptile, a mammal, a monkey with a tail, and finally a tailless ape. He then showed us Dr. Haeckel’s drawings of human embryos in various phases of development, such as a single-cell fertilized egg (similar to a single-cell bacterium), an embryo with “gill slits” (similar to a fish with gills) and an embryo with a tail (similar to a monkey).

These drawings were extremely compelling to me, especially the “fact” that humans had gills and a tail. After this lecture, I found myself rapidly accepting evolution.

Years later, I learned that the drawings used to demonstrate Ontogeny were extremely inaccurate. When critics brought charges of extensive retouching and outrageous fudging in his famous embryo illustrations, Haeckel replied he was only trying to make them more accurate than the faulty specimens on which they were based.

Here are some of Haeckel’s errors: (1) Dr. Haeckel made the images of different animal embryos look similar even though the embryos do not appear this way in life; (2) Haeckel referred to neck pouches in the human embryo as “gill-arches,” yet there are no fish gills in the human embryo; and (3) Dr. Haeckel referred to the end of the vertebral column of the human embryo as “a tail” even though these vertebrae coincide with the sacrum and coccyx to which the pelvic organs are attached.

Sadly, I cast my vote for evolution in 1977 based on this faulty evidence. No one in my medical school told me that Haeckel’s drawings were shown to be inaccurate 80 years earlier. Even sadder is the fact that Haeckel’s drawings are still part of some medical school textbooks today.

“The accusation that Haeckel had fraudulently portrayed embryos in the latter part of the 19th century was an accusation that was raised at the time. Many of the medical textbooks today still duplicate the erroneous drawings that Haeckel had portrayed in the 19th century.” – Dr. Daniel Gasman, Professor of History, City University of New York (CUNY). Dr. Gasman is considered an expert on Haeckel.

Four Questions
One year later, in the middle of my sophomore year of college, I went out for pizza with a classmate. In my mind, it was just a social time to chew the fat. While eating dinner, we talked about our classes and friends. Then, for some unknown reason, my classmate began to ask some serious and pointed questions — questions that would forever change my life.

Q: What did I think about evolution?

A: I believe.

Q: What did I think about the problems with the fossil record which cast doubt on the theory of evolution?

A: I didn’t know there were “problems” with the fossil record.

Q: What did I think about the problems with the laws of physics in the big bang model?

A: I don’t know. I had never heard of “problems” with the laws of physics in the big bang theory.

My friend’s last question sunk me. It pertained to an area I was very familiar with, biochemistry.

Q: How could life begin if proteins do not form naturally?

I thought to myself: “He’s got me.” I had studied the chemical equations of proteins and aced them in class, but I had never applied them to the origin of life.

Let me explain.

The theory of evolution suggests that the very first form of life, a single-cell organism, formed spontaneously (or naturally) out of chemicals. But proteins, one of the necessary components for a single-cell organism, do not form naturally. How could life begin if proteins do not form naturally out of chemicals?

A seed of doubt entered my mind that day, and I felt a wave of emotion as I wondered, “Have I been duped into believing evolution?”

“The [physics] formulas we use [in the big bang theory] start giving answers that are nonsensical. We find total disaster. Everything breaks down, and we’re stuck.” — Dr. David Gross, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004. He is the Chair of Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“But there’s always been a couple of problems with the big bang theory. First, when you squeeze the entire universe into an infinitesimally small, but stupendously dense package, at a certain point, our laws of physics simply break down. They just don’t make sense anymore.” — Dr. Brian Greene Professor of Mathematics and Physics at Columbia University.

“No one has ever seen or witnessed a protein molecule form naturally.” — Dr. Duane Gish opposes evolution. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

The Bet

Before I could gather an adequate response to the protein problem, my friend fired his last salvo. “Carl, I bet you can’t prove evolution.” I retorted, “That’s crazy. It has been proven!” But he had made his mark. His verbal shot lodged in my brain like a bullet. I thought to myself, “How could evolution be true if one cannot reconcile these important issues?”

His points concerning the formation of proteins and the laws of physics seemed believable, but I wasn’t quite sure I trusted my classmate’s lofty accusations that there were “problems” with the fossil record. How did he know? This was my med school buddy talking, not a paleontologist. He told me that nearly all the animal groups have missing links in their evolutionary history, despite finding millions and millions of fossils. How could this be? I had always assumed the so-called missing links (the fossils portraying one animal type changing into another, such as a dinosaur changing into a bird) are missing because the fossil record was poor. He pointed out the other logical possibility — that the proposed missing links never existed and that was why they had not been found. His reasoning seemed plausible. Still, I was not convinced. I am, by nature, skeptical. But because of the simplicity and eloquence of his arguments, I gave them some credence.

Now I was unnerved. How could there be such fundamental problems with the big bang theory, the origin of life, and the fossil record if evolution was true?

With this casual bet began the adventure of a lifetime, to prove evolution right or wrong. I decided I would review the evidence for the theory of evolution from top to bottom and then devise ways to test it. I felt up to the task because I had been afforded valuable experiences in science and experimentation. From all of these experiences, I learned how to apply the scientific method used to prove or disprove an idea.

By the time I accepted the bet in my sophomore year of college, I had been educated in chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, anatomy, physiology, embryology, and biology. My intention was to study evolution in my free time and hopefully wrap this up in a few years. Little did I know it would take decades, studying and traveling, to arrive at a definitive answer.

Now most people would find it difficult to believe that someone would go on a lifelong quest stemming from an innocuous bet over dinner. Yet, this is all rather telling about me. I am an independent thinker and a seeker of truth. Over the last 30 years, I have to confess, there were times I wished that conversation had never happened. I would have led a “normal” life as an ER physician, with more time to enjoy my favorite sports of fishing and sailing. But the reality is you cannot go back and change the past.