Category Archives: Lead Story

The 12 Hates of Christmas

Thanksgiving has passed, but Christmas is in the air. It’s magical, isn’t it? It’s something, that’s for sure. You’ve heard of “The 12 Days of Christmas”, but I have put together a list called “The 12 Hates of Christmas.” It’s not a “resolution” kind of list. It’s a “Where did all the fun that I was supposed to have go this holiday?” kind of list. It’s an “I have bunch of regrets mixed in with my fond memories and I don’t like it” kind of list.

I have decided to wade through all the junk to bring out what is (or should be) most important. I hope it might add a little levity, bring some focus to this busy time, and help improve your holiday celebration, whatever it may be—Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Ramadan, or Festivus (for the rest of us). Feel free to steal these and… spread the holiday hate to help others, or something like that. Sometimes it helps to have a sense of humor.

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Is Tweeting Now a Felony?

Say you want a revolution.
We better get on right away.
Well you get on your feet
And out on the street.
– John Lennon
“Power to the People”

The ominous rise of the surveillance state continues unabated. With each passing day, hope fades that the Obama administration will diverge from George W. Bush’s erection of a police state.

The government’s treatment of Elliot Madison is a case in point. Madison, a 41-year-old self-styled anarchist and social worker, was arrested on September 24, 2009, and charged with violating a federal anti-rioting law. Madison allegedly listened to a police scanner (which, according to the New York Times, is legal) and blogged about it on Twitter to help fellow protesters avoid law enforcement at the G-20 summit taking place in Pittsburgh that same month. (Ironically, just months earlier, the U.S. government called Twitter a boon to democracy after Iranian protesters used it to organize anti-government rallies.)

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Freedom Under Fire

“This is a sad day for the cause of freedom. When the Supreme Court cannot clear their calendar to hear a case of this magnitude, then our freedoms are in jeopardy. Such censorship and discrimination should not be permitted in America.”
John W. Whitehead,
The Rutherford Institute

The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a high school valedictorian whose microphone was turned off by school officials after she began speaking about the part her Christian beliefs played in her success in life. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute had asked the Court to hear the case of Brittany McComb, charging that school officials violated McComb’s free speech rights and engaged in viewpoint discrimination when they censored her speech because of its Christian content. The Court issued the order denying the petition without additional explanation.

“This is a sad day for the cause of freedom,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “When the Supreme Court cannot clear their calendar to hear a case of this magnitude, then our freedoms are in jeopardy. Such censorship and discrimination should not be permitted in America.”

In the spring of 2006, Brittany McComb was one of three valedictorians chosen based on their grade-point averages to give a speech at Foothill High School’s annual commencement ceremony. Each valedictorian was provided with “suggestions” for crafting their speeches. However, school officials neither encouraged nor forbade the students to include or exclude religious content from their speeches. In her speech, Brittany reflected on past experiences and lessons learned at school and wrote about the emptiness she experienced from accomplishments, achievements and failures in her early high school years. She then mentioned the fulfillment and satisfaction she later came to experience in something greater than herself, namely, in God’s love, and Christ.

Upon receiving a copy of Brittany’s draft speech, school administrators proceeded to censor her speech, deleting all three Bible references, several references to “the Lord” and the only mention of the word “Christ.” Believing that the district’s censorship of her speech amounted to a violation of her right to free speech, on June 15, 2006, Brittany attempted to deliver the original version of her speech in which she talked about the role that her Christian beliefs played in her success. The moment Brittany began to speak the words, school officials cut off her microphone. Despite extensive jeers from the audience over the school officials’ actions, McComb was not permitted to finish her valedictory speech.

With the assistance of The Rutherford Institute, Brittany McComb filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Foothill High School officials in July 2006. In June 2007, the U.S. District Court for Nevada rejected the school district’s second attempt to have the case dismissed and affirmed that the lawsuit raises substantial claims of infringement of McComb’s right of free speech. School officials subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeals, which dismissed the case, holding that McComb had no right to give her speech, which it deemed to be “proselytizing.”

Despite the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the McComb case, John Whitehead points out that the battle is far from over. “As we see our freedoms constantly under attack, be reminded that The Rutherford Institute continues to defend those whose freedoms are in jeopardy,” stated Whitehead. “In fact, we have two more cases on appeal before the United States Supreme Court. In the first, Nurre v. Whitehead, the courts have ruled that public school students cannot perform Christian music at a graduation ceremony, even without spoken words or printed lyrics. In the second, Busch v. Marple Newtown School District, the courts have affirmed that a Christian mother cannot read a passage from the Psalms to her child in kindergarten, while other parents are permitted to read whatever they choose.”

The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit legal and educational civil liberties organization, provides legal assistance at no charge to individuals whose constitutional rights have been threatened or been violated.

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An Interview with Mike Foster

We’re back with a special Veteran’s Day podcast featuring Mike Foster, author of Deadly Viper Character Assassins and all around cool guy. We talk about Mike’s recent project, The ManCave, as well as pose the question: How far does grace extend especially to those in ministry?

To find out more about Mike Foster and the Deadly Viper project, visit deadlyviper.org.

Download the podcast here, listen below, or check us out on iTunes.

Don’t forget to check out our recent interview with Jason Boyett.

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Rethinking “Evangelism”

During graduate school I worked each summer in the maintenance department of a large financial services company helping to maintain its landscaping and beautiful rolling lawn. Early on I could tell that the guys on the maintenance crew weren’t real thrilled with having a “pastor-in-training” on their team, but their misgivings only strengthened my resolve to reach out to them and convert them to Christianity. My first week on the job I adopted the guys on my crew as my spiritual “project.” I remember praying, “Jesus, when I leave this place I want every person on my team to be a Christian.”

By that time in my spiritual journey I had already proved myself to be a fervent evangelist, so I assumed my goal would be easily attained. The first part of my strategy was to set myself apart by living a morally noticeable life. I worked harder and longer than everybody on the team. I refused to join in when they told dirty jokes and swore, and whenever we were in the locker room I made sure never to look at the pictures of naked women hanging on the walls. The second part of my strategy was to insert spiritual ideas into our conversations to provoke discussions about God and faith. Some would have called this “picking a fight,” but at the time I called it “witnessing.”

I zeroed in almost immediately on one man named Andrew. He was in his early forties, and just moved to the states with his family from Poland. Andrew could barely speak English, so most of our conversations revolved around Andrew pointing to something and asking, “Brian, what English word for…?” I figured Andrew would be the easiest to reach on our team, so I chose every assignment I could get that involved working with him. I discovered Andrew was a former Catholic and had little interest in spiritual matters. However, this didn’t deter me in the least. With the zeal of a pushy door-to-door salesman, I forced spiritual matters into just about every conversation Andrew and I had.

Near the end of the summer I was talking with Andrew and casually asked, “Andrew, we’re friends, right?” He took me by surprise when he answered, “No.” Shocked, I said, “What do you mean? We’ve been working together an entire summer.” He answered, “Brian, what you call people…you know…you talk with them…you work with them…they are nice people…you go home and don’t see them until you go to work again? I said, “Acquaintances?” He said, “Yes, acquaintances. I have many acquaintances.” Then he said, “In Poland, our word for friend is special. In Poland, when we call a person friend, it means that we share hearts with that person. So, to answer your question: In America, I do not have any friends yet.”

Before I knew it the summer came to a close and I returned to school full-time, but when I returned the following summer I was a different person. I had spent most of the school year doubting the existence of God and sorting out an excruciating crisis of faith. I started my first day on the job thoroughly broken. I was still a believer, but I felt as if I had just come out of surgery and my soul was still bandaged. Gone was the spiritual bravado and pushiness from the summer before, replaced by a few things that were new to me: empathy, respect, and patience. I think Andrew was puzzled by the change in my persona because late one afternoon he asked if I still believed in God. I looked at the ground and slowly said, “Yes, Andrew, I still believe in God, but my faith in myself has been shaken.” Andrew wisely responded, “That might be good thing, no?”

As Andrew and I spent time together that summer I found myself listening more and talking less, and because of that I was amazed at what I learned about him. I discovered that Andrew was a lawyer in Poland, and that he couldn’t practice law here in the U.S. because he didn’t have the money or time to go back to school. I discovered that Andrew had a wife of twenty years named Eva, and two children. I also found out that Andrew was a brilliant man. He spoke four languages, studied philosophy, and had a fanatical interest in soccer. As Andrew talked and I listened, he initiated profound spiritual conversations and asked probing questions for which I had few answers.

Over time, the more we walked around the grounds, cutting the lawn and working on the building, the more ashamed I became of the way I acted the previous summer. I was afraid that I had single-handedly turned Andrew off to spiritual matters completely. Fortunately that didn’t seem to happen. It struck me as odd at the time, but it appeared that the more Andrew watched me struggle and the more I was honest with what I was feeling, the more spiritual interest he showed. There was something very authentic and natural about the way our relationship unfolded each day.

On my last day at the company, something happened that will always hold a special place in my heart. After I said goodbye to everyone on my team, none of which had become Christians, Andrew followed me out to my car. He placed both hands on my shoulders and said something I will never forget: “I will miss you, Brian Jones, my friend.”

brian-thumb Brian Jones is an author and the Senior Pastor at Christ’s Church of the Valley, an innovative community of faith he and his wife helped start in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Brian’s first book, Second Guessing God, was his attempt to help people wrestle with the question, “Why does God keep allowing really bad stuff to happen in my life?” In his second book, Getting Rid of the Gorilla, Brian explored the difficult issue of forgiveness, why he’s not very good at it, and how an unforgiving heart can make you do some pretty hurtful things in life if you don’t deal with it.

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Let Us Worship and Bow Down

As a kid I vividly remember playing was we called “Knee Football” with my brother and my uncles. On snowy Wisconsin days we would often huddle up in Grandpa & Grandma’s basement and play a spirited game of football…on our knees. This was our way of keeping it somewhat civil and would reduce the chances that something of Grandmas would get broken. But alas, something did break…

My collarbone.

I had the ball and three of my uncles tackled me at the same time. It was a John sandwich. I think they forgot that I was 10 years old and all of about 60 pound…wet.

Because of that unfortunate Knee Football fiasco and because of my strict upbringing in Catholicism (a religion that calls you to your knees often), I grew up a bit leery of the worship posture of kneeling or bowing before the Lord. That has changed as I’ve gotten older. I now find myself in that particular worship response often, and I see it portrayed all throughout Scripture.

In Mark 5 there is a pattern that emerges that I’d like to explore. It supports what the Psalmist says in Psalm 95:6: “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.”

Kneeling out of Submission
In Mark 5:6 a demon possessed man saw Jesus at a distance and ran to him. When he was close he fell to his knees before the Son of the Most High God. Jesus discerned the spirits within and spoke with authority to them. The position the man took was one of submission and surrender. Is your life completely submitted to the Son of God?

Kneeling out of Need
In Mark 5:22 a synagogue ruler named Jarius approached Jesus on behalf of his sick daughter. He fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded for her healing. His need was great. Like the situations that many of us face throughout our lifetime, his need was serious. Do you have a need right now? Have you humbly presented that need to Jesus? Believe me, he knows what to do with it!

Kneeling out of Vulnerability
In Mark 5:33 a situation is documented regarding a women with a serious health issue. Out of desperation she reached out to Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak. When Jesus realized that someone had touched him the women fell at his feet and trembled in fear. She became extremely vulnerable. She had to expose herself to the Son of God in the midst of a large crowd. That’s vulnerability, and it’s never easy. When’s the last time you came to Jesus out of transparency and vulnerability?

john-deniseJohn Fehlen serves as the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. He digs his wife Denise and their four kids. Check out his blog at www.johnfehlen.com. Flickr Image

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Skid Row is Holyground

Recently we came across a great online video magazine called Enoch Magazine. It intrigued us. So we decided to find out more. After finding out more about them, the more we liked them and their vision. Here is an interview we recently had with Nate Smith, Managing Editor of Enoch Magazine.

Tell us a little about Enoch Magazine. What is it? And why is it?

Enoch Magazine is a non profit media movement that exists online. We travel and film documentaries that show God’s glory in unique and different ways. We also interview bands, have dj mixes, articles, and more. Our big focuses are the homeless and finding out what people’s perception of Jesus is. We started Enoch because we were frustrated with a lot of the Christian Media available out there. It seemed so much of it was living in the Christian bubble and it was frustrating. We wanted to take a different angle. We wanted to find people who are truly serving God but their not famous or anybody special and document that.

What obsticles do you face with running the magazine?

Well honestly finances and time. Its hard to fund all of our trips when we give all our content away for free. That’s ok though. Look in the Bible and never once did they charge to hear Jesus speak or did the disciples ever ask to be paid. We live in an age where we are constantly being bombarded by the digital and print world. If you don’t have a lot of money than you can’t advertise or if you don’t have a lot of time to post your content all over the internet people might not find it. I still work a part time to help fund trips and its hard sometimes to find a good balance.

How has Enoch challenged your faith?

That’s a great question. It seems with Enoch I take it a day at time. Most of the time you don’t know who is reading the articles or watching the videos so you can’t directly see God working. It’s made me remember that in faith God is always behind the scenes and always working and many people don’t give him the credit he deserves. Its made me grow in my trust in finances. We are moving our magazine to Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles and I have no money and barely enough to cover the gas to get there but I am trusting God a day at a time. It makes me realize he will take care of me. It sounds cliché but he seems to always come through. I definitely have thrown in all my cards with God so I have no choice but to be faithful.

Tell us more about the documentary Skid Row is Holyground that you guys created a few months ago.

A little over a year and a half ago my partner in the magazine Carter Theis wanted to go to a place he was scared of and see God show up. He wanted to go to Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles and film a documentary about what the need was there. For those of you who don’t know Skid Row is a 9 by 9 block in Downtown Los Angeles where they estimate 15,000 to 20,000 homeless people are living. For us it was about also growing in faith and trusting that the Lord would protect us in what is considered one of the most dangerous places in the United States. That was out first trip and we’ve been back 4 times since then. Over the last year and a half we have released a series of videos called Skid Row is Holyground on the Enoch Web Site. We hope to eventually put out a DVD of our whole experience. We are moving there in a few weeks and we will putting out weekly videos on the Enoch Magazine site and also on Skidrowisholyground.com.

Enoch is moving their headquarters to Skid Row in LA. Why the move and how did the passion develop within you guys for one of the most dangerous communities in California?

Every time we were out there on the streets we hated leaving after we had connected with that community. By just making videos we felt we were not doing enough. We wanted to be down there every day truly making a difference. So, after a few trips we decided that we should move Enoch Magazine to Skid Row. There is never a dull day on Skid Row. It’s exciting! There are so many ministry opportunities down there too. You can do anything from Street Evangelism to music to feeding to discipleship and so much more.

What are some of the needs you are facing?

Well our number one need right now is finances. We have partnered with a ministry called the Jonah Project (jonahproject.org) and we are in the process of buying a building on Skid Row. This building will not only serve as the Enoch Magazine Headquarters but also as a place that will be open for the homeless everyday. They will be able to get fed, get new clothes, go to bible studies and services on Sundays. We also want to have a place to throw concerts that are specficially for the homeless. This building will also be a place that mission groups can come and serve and stay. We want people to come to Skid Row and have the same experience we had on our first few trips. We actually have a website for the building called Skidrowisholyground.com

How can people connect with you?

People can connect with us by going to Enochmagazine.com or Skidrowisholyground.com. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace or email us at info@enochmagazine.com.

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