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Abundant grace and the elder brother: Sunday reflection

Westlake Legal Group rembrandt-prodigal-son Abundant grace and the elder brother: Sunday reflection The Blog Sunday reflection religion Christianity

This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 15:1–32:

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them he addressed this parable. “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’ In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Then he said,
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns, who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

The lesson of the prodigal son is one of the most compelling of Jesus’ parables because it fits our desires so perfectly. We commit the same sins as the younger son does; in fact, this is a very incisive retelling of Original Sin — the rejection of the Father and the wish to inherit His kingdom as though he were dead. We reject His authority and go out to make the world as we see fit rather than through His will.

And that turns out about as well as one would expect. The younger son makes ruin of his life, realizes and repents of it. As fallen sons and daughters of the Lord, we eventually feel our sins so keenly that we become desperate for forgiveness. We hope to receive at least some crumbs of the table when we return in repentance to the Father, not the fatted calf. That kind of reception is too gracious for us to imagine — and yet Jesus promises us exactly that, if we return as the younger son does.

It might surprise people to consider that the younger son is actually our idealized conception of ourselves. Too often, we are the elder brother — the son who complied out of fear alone, sitting in judgment on others, and jealous to the point of rage over the Father’s love for others. The father forgives the elder son too, but not without a soft rebuke for his stubbornness and scrupulosity. This son also sins in his own way, also seeks to supplant the Father as judge, but unlike the younger son neither recognizes his sin nor repents of it.

In the historical context in which Jesus preached, it’s not difficult to understand which audience Jesus intended for both parts of this parable. The younger son would have been the rank-and-file Israelites who had been lost in sin; the elder brother would have been the temple authorities that used the law as a weapon to protect their own privilege and deny the love of God to others.

But this goes farther than just the historical context, because we find the same tension within ourselves. At different times, we might be the dissolute son thumbing his nose at the Father, or the repentant younger son seeking His forgiveness. In fact, we might swing back and forth repeatedly between these two states, and in between — when we’ve momentarily humbled ourselves and repented — suddenly become the elder brother, willing to cast out those who acted in the same manner as we did. In those moments, we become so determined to follow the law that we forget that the Father who wrote it is the one true judge.

Today’s readings give us guidance on navigating these waters. If any one New Testament figure embodies the elder brother, it is Saul of Tarsus who later became the apostle Paul. Saul persecuted and pursued Christ’s church, being present at and likely directing the martyrdom of Stephen, among others unnamed. He was determined to impose the law by force and ensure that those who crossed it in his judgment could not be saved. Paul writes to Timothy that he was among the worst of sinners — “a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant.” Yet Christ forgave and anointed him, in part, to show the boundless nature of the Lord’s forgiveness. “I was mercifully treated, so that in me as the foremost [sinner], Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example[.]”

In our first reading from Exodus, we see the grace that Jesus taught in action. The Israelites have decided to dethrone God just as the younger brother does in Jesus’ parable, relying on their own material wealth to create an idol for the worship that belongs to God. After building the golden calf for idol worship, the Lord tells Moses that His people have blasphemed and must be destroyed. Moses, an elder brother of sorts in the faith, does not run down the mountain to smite everyone in His name. He implores the Lord for mercy on Moses’ younger siblings in faith. The Lord blesses Moses for his love of his family and withholds His judgment, forgiving the blasphemy against Him.

Jesus calls us to be both the younger and elder son, or more accurately, recognize that in the end there is no difference. Sin is our rebellion against God, our attempt to dethrone Him and exploit His inheritance to satiate our own selfish desires. Both the younger and elder son do this in different ways and for different purposes, but both have to recognize this and ask forgiveness. The Father waits for one and all to return to Him in that way, and has a banquet of celebration waiting for each of us who do.

 

 

The front-page image is a detail from “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1661-69. Currently on display at the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Via Wikimedia Commons.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

The post Abundant grace and the elder brother: Sunday reflection appeared first on Hot Air.

Westlake Legal Group rembrandt-prodigal-son-300x162 Abundant grace and the elder brother: Sunday reflection The Blog Sunday reflection religion Christianity   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Sharpening the pencil: Sunday reflection

Westlake Legal Group jesus-feeding-5000 Sharpening the pencil: Sunday reflection The Blog Sunday reflection religion Christianity

This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 14:25–33:

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

I have a confession to make, which for a Catholic is hardly an earth-shaking declaration. I’m not terribly good at prayer. Perhaps this comes from being an adult revert to the faith after having skipped most of the catechesis on prayer aimed at youth in the church, or maybe I’m just too self-conscious for it to be comfortable.

Still, I pray every day, at least at dinner, and occasionally through the rest of the day when people ask for intercessions. When I remember to pray at other times, I ask the Lord to strengthen me in three ways. “Lord, help me to remember who I am today: a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and an instrument of Your holy will.” If I can get that much right, I figure, the rest will fall into place — as long as I don’t get in the way of it.

Today’s Gospel reminds me of the last of those three requests — a reminder of our purpose, especially those who put their faith in Christ. Mother Teresa spoke about it in 1988 in an interview with Time Magazine, which was reprinted this week in the National Catholic Register. She offered an excellent analogy as to what it means to be an instrument of God’s will, and what it takes for us to fill that role:

You feel you have no special qualities?

I don’t think so. I don’t claim anything of the work. It’s his work. I’m like a little pencil in his hand. That’s all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do it. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used.

The analogy of a pencil goes well beyond just being an instrument. How do we use pencils? In their original form, they’re useless. They have a rubber tip on one end and a squared-off blunt end at the other. We have to sharpen the pencil to use it, shedding the useless attachments to get to its core. The more it gets used, the more we sharpen it and shed those attachments. At times, the tip breaks under pressure, or we get dull and ineffective from the effort. We only become effective again when we shed more attachments and allow ourselves to be sharpened for the effort.

When I read that this week, this passage spoke to me in a manner I didn’t quite realize until I began to reflect on this week’s Gospel. Jesus is telling His disciples the same thing. He certainly isn’t telling people to hate their families, no more than Jesus is suggesting that we have to be invading kings in order to receive salvation.

Instead, Jesus wants His disciples to focus on preparation for salvation rather than be consumed with the worries of this world. This teaching took place in a society where family obligations were paramount in the social structure. Everyone had very clearly defined roles and responsibilities to close relations; it would have been shocking to entertain the idea that those could just be abandoned. (Even today, it’s still a bit shocking, although hardly as rare.)

All those, however necessary they might be, do not themselves advance the cause of salvation and the coming of Christ’s Church. Jesus’ disciples will have to prepare for that in the same manner as a builder or a military planner in order to fulfill the roles they have as instruments of God’s will. To do that, Jesus tells His disciples that they have to whittle themselves down to their essence as children of God. They must shed their attachments and sharpen themselves for their mission.

And like Mother Teresa’s pencil, this must be an ongoing process. No pencil gets sharpened once and stays sharp forever. We must understand that becoming the Lord’s instrument means constant sharpening and focus, allowing the accretions of the material world to fall off like shavings in order to get to our spiritual essence. Only in that way can the Lord truly work through us.

Needless to say, that process is hardly pain-free. Nor does the pencil know what its Writer has in mind. It requires us to have faith and trust and to put the demand for knowledge and control aside. Our first reading today from Wisdom makes that clear. “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? … Scarce do we guess the things on earth,” the scripture observes, “and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty[.]”

If that’s true — and our experience in the world makes that more clear the older we get — then there is no way for us to grasp the Lord’s plan or His will. All we can do is either accept that the Lord is good and His plan is for our benefit, or reject Him entirely and any hope of eternal life in His love. If we wish to be His instruments, then we must trust the Lord and allow Him to work through us — and to continue sharpening us in ways we might not imagine or understand.

The front page image is a detail from “The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes,” early 16th century, by Lambert Lombard. Currently on display at the Rockox House in Antwerp, Belgium. Via Wikimedia Commons.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

The post Sharpening the pencil: Sunday reflection appeared first on Hot Air.

Westlake Legal Group jesus-feeding-5000-300x162 Sharpening the pencil: Sunday reflection The Blog Sunday reflection religion Christianity   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble: Sunday reflection

Westlake Legal Group jesus-emmaus-veronese Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble: Sunday reflection The Blog Sunday reflection religion Christianity

This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 14:1, 7–14:

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.

He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

One of my favorite novelty songs of my youth was Mac Davis’ It’s Hard to Be Humble. The hilarious lyrics as well as his folksy delivery exposed the vanity of pride and the absolute blindness it produces. “Some folks say that I’m egotistical,” Davis sings at one point, “hell, I don’t even know what that means! I guess it has something to do with the way that I fill out my skin-tight blue jeans.” Davis’ live audience roars with laughter throughout the song as its over-the-top depiction of useless pride resonates with everyone. It’s perhaps one of the quintessential human experiences.

Usually, though, it’s much more difficult to identify than in the first-person voice of Davis’ song. We all struggle with pride, even the least self-assuming of us. Human society was for millennia organized on the principle of nobility, and even in this egalitarian era still organized somewhat on the basis of pride. That is useful to an extent, as long as it’s based on accomplishment and capability more than reputation and popularity — and is not used to exalt one’s existence at the expense of others.

In The Screwtape LettersC.S. Lewis noted the subtle nuances of pride. There is no danger in acknowledging good work done by one’s self as long as one does not set himself apart for having accomplished it, Lewis notes in Letter 14:

The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbour’s talents—or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall. He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things.

That’s no easy feat in today’s social-media-driven self-promoting world. Our culture craves rank just as earlier cultures strove to be added to the nobility. The pursuit of rank descends into absurdity and twists values as well, promoting the inconsequential at the expense of the truly necessary. It’s no longer enough to build the world’s best cathedral, but taking the world’s best selfie within the cathedral is what brings fame and rank these days.

And yes, I’m well aware of my Twitter bio.

This was just as true in Jesus’ day, and as He explains in this Gospel reading, equally vacuous in the end. Man’s judgment is not God’s judgment, Jesus repeatedly preaches, and uses this teaching as a way to emphasize the point. The problem of pride goes beyond self-regard but also in how we commoditize those around us in order to maintain or increase our self-love.

Jesus starts off with a humorous situation in which a guest at a wedding assumes a place of honor without having been invited to it. How embarrassing will it be, Jesus teaches, when the host has to tell you to go to Table 19 in front of everyone else? That’s the Mac Davis example, if you will; a person who is so full of himself that he can’t possibly perceive of anyone more important than himself. He’s a buffoon, a figure of ridicule who will serve as an example in novelty songs for millennia.

The second example is more insidious, however. Jesus speaks of those who use pride and rank for aggrandizement. They invite people to their parties in order to oblige them into reciprocity, thereby increasing their own social rank. They are seeking payback — a kind of social extortion by which they can manipulate people for their own selfish benefits.

All of this — all of it — rests on human judgment of worth, not the Lord’s. It mainly has to do with material benefits, not spiritual. And in the end, Jesus teaches, it’s all utter nonsense. God does not value celebrity nor wealth; He values faith and virtue. Our ability to judge others is so limited by our own sin and limited perspective that we cannot possibly rank ourselves rationally, let alone others. It is that realization that represents the true basis of humility, rather than any knee-jerk false self-disparagement that attempts to pretend at humility.

Lewis also has Screwtape’s perspective on that impulse, and on the true nature of vanity and pride:

The Enemy will also try to render real in the patient’s mind a doctrine which they all profess but find it difficult to bring home to their feelings—the doctrine that they did not create themselves, that their talents were given them, and that they might as well be proud of the colour of their hair. But always and by all methods the Enemy’s aim will be to get the patient’s mind off such questions, and yours will be to fix it on them. Even of his sins the Enemy does not want him to think too much: once they are repented, the sooner the man turns his attention outward, the better the Enemy is pleased[.]

Vanity and pride put us at the center of the universe rather than the Lord. False humility does the same. That makes us the man who attends the feast by first sitting at the place of honor, until the host has to remind him that he’s not the center of the universe. Jesus exhorts disciples to look outside the circle of those who we might exploit to maintain our delusion of grandeur, in order to ground ourselves in the reality of a fallen world that this delusion creates.

Only then can we open our eyes to the Lord as the center of all things, and only then can we experience true humility — and offer whatever gifts we have to His purpose.  Stripping away that self-deception is among the most difficult tasks we have on the path to salvation, but a great welcome of equals at the Feast awaits us when we succeed.

The front-page image is “Supper in Emmaus,” c. 1560 by Paolo Veronese. On display at the Louvre. Via Wikimedia Commons.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

The post Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble: Sunday reflection appeared first on Hot Air.

Westlake Legal Group jesus-emmaus-veronese-300x170 Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble: Sunday reflection The Blog Sunday reflection religion Christianity   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

HEADS EXPLODE: Radio Host Calls Trump “The Second Coming” of God.

Westlake Legal Group president-trump-arthur-laffer-300x200 HEADS EXPLODE: Radio Host Calls Trump “The Second Coming” of God. white house Wayne Allyn Root washington D.C. Social Media President Trump Popular Culture Morning Briefing Media Mainstream Media Jews Jesus Christ gun control Front Page Stories Front Page Featured Story Featured Post Entertainment Endorsements donald trump democrats Congress Christianity China Trade Talks China Campaigns Allow Media Exception 2019

(Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Ahem. Let’s start with some very basic things here.

IF you are a CHRISTian than you have only one savior whose name happens to be Jesus Christ. There is a whole book about Him in the Bible ( mostly the New Testament but some hints in the Old Testament) and His life is pretty well documented and His influence felt over the world today.

As of this writing, the Lord has not made His reappearance known. Which means the current President of the United States is not Jesus Christ. You can call me a skeptic but I’m feeling pretty good on this hot take.

Continuing on this theme, I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of those in the faith of Judaism believe they have not yet seen the messiah. I might be a bit weak on the specifics but I feel pretty good about this call also.

I’m a CHRISTian, my Lord and Savior is Jesus Christ and I want to be 100% clear on that before I continue.

Good? Good!

Now let’s get to the main event.

Now I’m going to assume that Wayne Allyn Root got a bit excited and might have used some hyperbole here in the tweets that President Trump retweeted earlier today, where Root called Trump the “Second Coming” for the Jewish people. Either that or Wayne bumped his head a bit earlier in the Nevada daylight.

Here are the tweets…

“Thank you to Wayne Allyn Root for the very nice words. “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world…and the Jewish people in Israel love him….

….like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God…But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore. It makes no sense! But that’s OK, if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s good for…..

…..all Jews, Blacks, Gays, everyone. And importantly, he’s good for everyone in America who wants a job.” Wow!

If only Wayne had tweeted that last part about Trump is good for everyone who wants a job.

I doubt people in Israel think Trump is King over there but he has a better shot of that than being the Messiah. Like 100% to nothing.

I know that Donald Trump loves to promote what he is doing. That was one of the reasons he has had success over the years. If you deny that point then you are just in the emotional set that is still pissed Marco Rubio missed his chance in 2016 and you had your office in the West Wing all picked out.

This is where Trump needs to show he is joking ( the left will still blow up) over stuff like this.

Wayne is an entertaining guy but he is most famous for doing sports betting and convincing people to buy his system so you can feel good about getting beat by the spread every Sunday Night. The guy is not an expert on diety relations, because if he was he would not be referencing that the Jews thought Trump was the second coming of anything for the reasons I mentioned above.

I’m taking a guess here but part of the solid 35% that are always supporting Trump have a solid group that takes their belief in God more serious than the admiration of any elected official. There is no reason to screw with that in any way. Even if it is from a guy that lives in Sin City and can promise you his “Lock Of The Week” will make you $$$.

One last thing on this.

Heads are going to explode over the tweets above and I get that 100%. This is just a sideshow that didn’t need to happen.

The President is doing some really interesting things in regards to China. He is actually risking his Presidency by engaging in these tariffs and demanding that intellectual property theft needs to stop. He is spot-on in this regard and every administration going back to Reagan has looked the other way in dealing with China on this. This is an incredible moment and something this whole country should be behind.

Yet because of the flap caused by this, when Trump was making this point on the South Lawn before flying to Kentucky today he cracked a joke about him being the “chosen one” to take on China. Now, this important message will be lost. Tweet and video below…

Dammit, I hate it when a really good point gets lost.

So what have we learned here today?

Trump is not the messiah and not likely to be King of Israel.

If you are a CHRISTian, Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He claims the title of the Messiah.

People in Nevada named Wayne Allyn Root are great dinner guests and fun to watch a football game with but not really strong on diety assignments.

Donald Trump needs to talk THREE TIMES A DAY about what his administration is doing with China. Also, do not RT above twitter guy from Nevada unless it is the LOCK OF THE WEEK. Unless it has to do with the Detroit Lions than RT but do the opposite.

Amen.

Check out my other posts here on Red State and my podcast Bourbon On The Rocks plus like Bourbon On The Rocks on Facebook and follow me on the twitters at IRISHDUKE2 

The post HEADS EXPLODE: Radio Host Calls Trump “The Second Coming” of God. appeared first on RedState.

Westlake Legal Group president-trump-arthur-laffer-300x200 HEADS EXPLODE: Radio Host Calls Trump “The Second Coming” of God. white house Wayne Allyn Root washington D.C. Social Media President Trump Popular Culture Morning Briefing Media Mainstream Media Jews Jesus Christ gun control Front Page Stories Front Page Featured Story Featured Post Entertainment Endorsements donald trump democrats Congress Christianity China Trade Talks China Campaigns Allow Media Exception 2019   Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Greg Hands: One might think that no-one in Brussels has read our Alternative Arrangements report

On the face of it, this week’s exchange of letters between Boris Johnson and Donald Tusk doesn’t offer a lot of encouragement for the great majority of us who do want to see a Brexit deal done between London and Brussels. Tusk’s response in particular, came across as rather intransigent, even absurdly claiming that the Prime Minister is seeking a return of a hard border in Ireland.

At times, the whole debate about the Northern Ireland Backstop is reminiscent of that between Pope Leo X and Martin Luther in the years after 1517. Brexit can appear like a debate between two rival sets of theologians. In 1517, the issue was transubstantiation or consubstantiation: did the communion wafer actually become the body of Christ, or was it merely representative of it?

This was a debate which would have been barely familiar to anyone just a few years before. And the sale of indulgences, and the basis of the scriptures and so on all formed part of it, too. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, the debate came to a head between the representatives of the papacy and Emperor Charles V on the one hand, and Luther and his followers on the other.

Four years on, however, what the theologians had missed was that the debate was no longer about narrow points of doctrine, but had come to involve much more fundamental principles like self-determination and popular consent, and a desire to find a solution that all sides could work with.

The current Brexit debate seems like that debate in 1521. Brussels has become entrenched. It is sticking hard and fast to the backstop, stubbornly ignoring the bigger picture. Practical politicians need to give this a fresh look. Unfortunately, the current Commission remains in place until November. A new set of eyes would understand that whatever the merits of the backstop, it simply isn’t going to pass through the Commons. And without the assent of the Commons, there is, by definition, never going to be a Brexit deal. That has been the case since early 2017 – whatever deal was negotiated would have to be agreed by the Commission and Council with the UK Government, and then ratified by the Commons and the European Parliament. All four hurdles need to be crossed. Three isn’t good enough.

So the backstop, like transubstantiation in 1521, might seem esoteric. But Johnson is also right when he describes it as anti-democratic, and therefore, like in 1521, emblematic of wider and more significant issues. He puts it succinctly in his letter to Tusk: “The backstop locks the UK, potentially indefinitely, into an international treaty which will bind us into a customs union and which applies large areas of single market legislation in Northern Ireland. It places a substantial regulatory border, rooted in that treaty, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The treaty provides no sovereign means of exiting unilaterally and affords the people of Northern Ireland no influence over the legislation which applies to them. That is why the backstop is anti-democratic.”

And that isn’t his only objection to the backstop. So, if the backstop isn’t going to pass the Commons, and doesn’t any longer have the agreement of the UK Government, it is self-evident that we need to urgently find something that does. This might seem an impossible task with just 72 days to go until Brexit date.

But much of the work has already been done. When Nicky Morgan and I agreed to co-chair the Prosperity UK Alternative Arrangements Commission in April, we knew we would be working with a superb team of technical experts from around the world – experts in borders, customs, logistics, transit and so on – and that we were giving ourselves around 10 weeks to produce a report on how it could all be done.

Fortunately, we knew that both sides wanted to see the work done. In their Strasbourg Declaration (actually, not that far from Worms) in March, both sides had committed themselves to finding alternative arrangements to the Backstop. When we published our 272 page report and draft protocols in July, we therefore thought we ought to be pushing at an open door. We went three times to Northern Ireland, twice to Dublin, and to Brussels, Berlin and The Hague to market the proposals to politicians, the media and other opinion-formers.

Both Johnson and Jeremy Hunt warmly welcomed our report during the recent Conservative leadership campaign. It should therefore not have a been a surprise to Messrs Tusk and Juncker that Alternative Arrangements would form the explicit or implicit basis of a refreshed UK approach on Brexit. The Prime Minister’s letter was, in my opinion, carefully crafted to be both realistic and conciliatory on what could be done, but one thing was clear, that the backstop could not form part of the deal, as it won’t pass the Commons. That is simply a statement of Realpolitik.

So Tusk’s response was disappointing. A Brussels spokesman quoted by the BBC claimed to not know much about Alternative Arrangements at all, asserting that the Prime Minister’s letter “does not set out what any alternative arrangements could be” and there was “no guarantee” they would be ready by the end of the transition period. It is almost as if nobody around Tusk had actually read our report.

Our Commission concluded clearly that Alternative Arrangements can and will work. But they won’t be up and running by October 31st. This is not a “No Deal” blueprint. Quite the opposite: our solution is the only one available which leads to a Brexit solution which will pass all four hurdles. And our proposals do need the (or at least a) transition period. Many of them can be brought in quite quickly. Some like the trusted trader scheme might take 12 – 15 months. We don’t believe anything will take longer than two to three years.

The Brexit solution lies in Alternative Arrangements. It just needs both sides to grasp it. Otherwise, I fear there could be a schism between London and Brussels which might take years, maybe decades to overcome.

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Noted Biblical Scholar Bernie Sanders Explains What the Bible Is Really About

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Just in case you don’t understand what the Bible is “really about,” no worries. Bernie Sanders is here for you and he’s using his noted expertise in Christianity to correct some common misinterpretations about Scripture.

You see, the bible isn’t about the grace and mercy offered via salvation in Christ, not by our own efforts but through his.

Nah, it’s about left-wing social justice.

The two presidential candidates addressed a group of black Christian millennials Saturday at a Black Church PAC’s Youth Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Both referenced the Bible to support their progressive agendas as they campaigned to the faithful.

“The Bible, if it is about anything, is about justice,” Sanders stated at one point during his 20 minutes on stage. “It is about reaching out to people in need. It is about standing up to the wealthy and the powerful.”

Sanders has previously described himself as “not particularly religious,” and said he’s “not actively involved in organized religion,” according to the Washington Post.

No. No, it’s not. Not at all.

The message of the Bible, much less the Gospels, is not “standing up to the wealthy and the powerful.” In fact, it was to the great dismay of many during Jesus’ time on earth that he wasn’t there to overthrow the wealthy and powerful (and oppressive) Romans. The path he walked was infinitely more important than dealings of worldly government and physical want. To pretend otherwise is pure nonsense.

What Bernie is doing is a common misconception harbored by people who otherwise have no real understanding of Christianity. While the New Testament does encourage charity, it was never meant to be forced and it was never meant to be primary. Helping the poor, while good, does not provide salvation nor was Jesus stumping for Medicare for All run by a central government. He was espousing the spiritual truth that those saved by Grace will be transformed into people who love God and love people, stimulating action toward those in need around them. Compulsion makes those acts worthless in God’s eyes.

Of course, Bernie’s greatest sin in this discussion isn’t misrepresenting charity in the Bible. It’s his complete distortion of who Jesus is by claiming the Bible is simply about “justice.” If the Bible were about “justice,” Jesus would have never came because all have fallen short and are deserving of judgement. That would have been justice. Instead, he came and died on the Cross, becoming the propitiation for our sins and saving us from the justice we actually deserved.  The message of the Bible isn’t that people deserve a living wage or whatever other socialist policy Bernie Sanders is stumping for. It’s that we all need a savior and that Jesus is that savior.

In short, if the Bible were about the proliferation of justice, we’d all be in really big trouble.

Politicians, especially those that aren’t even Christians (like Sanders), should steer clear of this kind of ridiculous rewriting of Biblical truth. I realize that Christians are not part of a “protected class” on the left and therefore our beliefs are often subjected to ridicule and distortion, but that doesn’t make it right. Stick to campaign slogans and making promises you can’t keep.

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Mired in division, united in endurance: Sunday reflection

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This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 12:49–53:

Jesus said to his disciples:

“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Back before I began blogging, I’d often have debates with friends and family over politics. These, of course, were the days when “social media” meant booze, and Facebook described my youth as a voracious reader. One of the frustrations in arguing politics, culture, or even religion was that no one recognized my genius, dagnabbit. And I often didn’t recognize anyone else’s unless they happened to recognize mine along the way.

This, by the way, is how you end up eating lunches by yourself, at least until you learn a little grace in debating. Failing that, start a blog and talk about other things with your friends and family.

Anyway, what became clear to me even apart from genuine differences of opinion and values is the long half-life of non-truth. Even when truth of fact could be independently established, people — myself included — tended not to believe it when it contradicted their own core values and beliefs. One could go to first sources and corroborate a point, and yet some would reject it or argue around it to maintain their point. It’s at those points in debates when things get heated and people become their most divided, because the point in any argument where people have the most at stake is on the factual basis of truth.

Jesus understood that, and likely so did his audience. This passage doesn’t just describe Jesus and his mission, but that of most of the prophets as well. From Moses to John the Baptist, the prophets brought truth to the Israelites, who often rejected both the truth and the prophet along with it.

Our first reading today comes from the life of Jeremiah, whose entire mission was to be recognized only in retrospect. Jeremiah prophesied about the destruction of Jerusalem but to no avail. The people treated the Temple as an idol, a kind of extortion over the Lord by claiming He would not suffer His holy place to be defiled and so they did not need to heed Jeremiah’s warnings. Confronted with the truth repeatedly from the Lord through Jeremiah, the king and other authorities preferred to kill the messenger instead. Jeremiah becomes mired in the mud of the cistern until a court official convinces the king that killing Jeremiah might not win the argument.

Jesus understood the divisive nature of truth, as did the prophets, because truth makes us choose. We have to get on one side or the other of real truth, once presented to us. Choosing is an act of division in itself, and Jesus wanted to make sure His disciples had no illusions about what the impact of His truth would be. The truth of God’s Word would divide even the closest of human relationships, not just neighborhoods, cities, and nations, although it would also divide those as well.

This teaches us that the main priority and/or core value of the Gospels isn’t unity between people. It’s the unity between each person and the Will of God. We are called to form ourselves to His Will individually, by choice, for love of Him. It is for the love of God that we love our neighbors, not the other way around. Forced unity in defiance of truth is not a loving act, even if we’re doing it to avoid conflict with our families and friends. We are called to love God first, embrace His truth, and live our lives in accordance with it — and hopefully teach others to do the same, which would produce earthly unity as a secondary outcome.

That, of course, is no small task. Espousing and defending that truth requires perseverance, a point Paul makes in our second reading from his letter to the Hebrews. We must strengthen our commitment to this mission — prophesying about the Word of God — by adhering ever more closely to His Will and rejecting sinfulness ourselves. The lives of the prophets, the mission and Passion of Jesus, and the long patience and perseverance of the Lord teaches us the way to persevere ourselves. “Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners,” Paul writes of the Lord in the long arc of salvation history, “in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

The Lord continues to persevere with us to this day. Jesus left us the sacraments in part to attest to the Lord’s presence in our lives, and the way He strengthens us for our own missions as priests, prophets, and kings in His creation. In that way, we can strive to fulfill the Lord’s wish to have His children willingly and joyfully unite with Him in the next life, and so unite with all of us as well. That is why we must choose the truth of the Gospel as our first priority and the reason to love our neighbors by not denying that truth, and persevere through the turmoil that choice creates.

For all other topics … read my blog.

The front-page image is a detail from “Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem,” 1630 by Rembrandt. On display at the Rijksmuseum. Via Wikimedia Commons.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

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The Most Powerful Woman In History

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Usually, when you read secular or even progressive Christian criticisms of the Christian faith, and Catholicism in particular, one of the arguments that inevitably comes up is the sexism inherent in placing so much emphasis on a single woman only as a vessel through which the Savior of Man could come into the world.

In the Catholic Church, today is the Feast of the Assumption, the celebration of the day that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was assumed – body and spirit – into Heaven at the end of her life, marking the end of a pure, sinless life. The belief in the Assumption is actually just the capstone of the story of the most powerful woman in the world.

The critics who would complain of Mary’s treatment in the Bible do so largely by flat out ignoring how influential Mary was in the life and ministry of her son. She was a young woman approached by the angel Gabriel and told she was to bear the Son of God and name him Jesus – despite the fact that she was a virgin. However, if you read the story of the interaction between Mary and Gabriel, it’s quite clear that it was not the command it is usually made out to be.

34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”

38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

The bolded part here is where the power in the conversation actually shifts. Mary is not just accepting this. She is giving her permission. This moment is referred to as Mary’s fiat, a Latin term meaning “an official authorization.” Thus, we see that Gabriel isn’t telling her she will do this. He is saying that it is the Lord’s intention, should she accept. Her response tells both Gabriel and God that, yes, I will bear this child.

Rarely in history do you see any choices given to women when they are ordained by a higher power to take up some holy cause. The choice isn’t there, as though destiny or whatever higher power is in charge simply forced the holy charge onto them. In this case, Mary’s allowance of this charge is one of the most progressive moments in both history and religion. However, simply saying “Your will be done” is not the end of her legacy in Christianity. It is simply the first in a lifetime of responsibility that she will take in guiding Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, we find Mary again at the center of one of the most important moments in Christianity. The wedding at Cana is considered to be the first miracle Jesus performed, and it was at the direction of Mary, not God, that he revealed himself.

3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” 5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

In this moment, we see that Jesus doesn’t believe his time has come, but he performs the miracle anyway at the behest of his mother, Mary. She was not simply the means for Jesus entering the world, but instead was the guiding force in his journey to becoming the figure he is.

Mary’s existence wasn’t merely inserted into the Bible to play the part of a birth mother, but rather as the figure that Jesus would respect and listen to even if he felt it was not part of his mission. This deference to his mother grants her a power that no one else had. Jesus did not perform miracles because anyone else told him to. He did it as part of his ministry. But, at the wedding at Cana, Jesus performed a miracle because Mary told him to. He revealed himself to his disciples in that moment, but not because it was part of some grander lesson. It was because of his own love and respect for his mother.

That is not a power that is given out to women so freely during that time, and even if you were to argue that it was an account written much later, the fact is that women did not regularly achieve such a status in religious or historical text. Mary is an exception that stands above other figures in history because of it.

Her influence in the world is not the influence of simply the Mother of God. She is a woman who was given the choice to bear, raise, and follow her son, and she chose this knowing that she would also likely see him killed by the very people he was sent to save. That she is depicted as she is, choosing that life, seeing what she saw, makes her Assumption that much more powerful. She is assumed, body and soul, into Heaven because she accepted the greatest charge one could take on, and in doing so she helped in a big way to shape the world.

This is why Mary is celebrated. If Jesus can be considered the most influential man in history, then it has to be recognized that without Mary, Jesus would not have walked the earth. For this, she did not die, but was granted a perfect reward for her perfect life on Earth.

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Songwriter for Award-Winning, Chart-Topping Christian Group Renounces His Faith

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Are you familiar with the Christian music group Hillsong United?

The band won the Dove Award for best recorded worship song in 2018, 2017’s best long form video, and best worship album the year prior. In 2014, it took home five Doves.

Now Hillsong is making news for a very different reason: Marty Sampson — a songwriter for the hitmaker — has announced he’s “genuinely losing” his Christian faith.

As reported by Christian Headlines, Marty put up a now-deleted post to Instagram noting his religious foundation was “on incredibly shaky ground.”

And not only is he losing his religion, he also seems to be losing his concern:

“Time for some real talk. I’m genuinely losing my faith … and it doesn’t bother me … like, what bothers me now is nothing … I am so happy now, so at peace with the world… It’s crazy.”

He laid out reasons:

“This is a soapbox moment so here I go … how many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet — they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people … but it’s not for me. I am not in anymore. I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I’m keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.”

Furthermore:

“All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point,”

He later explained to The Christian Post that he’s searching:

“I have and continue to analyze the arguments of prominent Christian apologists and biblical scholars, and am open-minded enough to consider the arguments of atheist debaters and debaters from other religions. If the truth is true, it will remain so regardless of my understanding of it. If I search it out, surely it will become even more clearly seen as the truth that it is. Examining a diamond more closer reveals the quality of the diamond. As I am still breathing, I am still learning.”

Of course, these kinds of things are going to happen. People fall out of their faith. I recently covered the case of Christian author Joshua Harris, who wrote a million-plus-selling church dating guide in the 90’s and is now renouncing his religion and getting a divorce (here).

As noted by RedState’s Brandon Morse, John Cooper — lead singer of the Christian rock band Skillet — had something to say about highly publicized religious turnover as of late:

“I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. … I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?

“It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.”

Are you a Hillsong fan? What are your thoughts on this particular story, and on the notion of lost faith in general? I anxiously await them.

-ALEX

 

Relevant RedState links in this article: here.

See 3 more pieces from me:

America Needs A Christian Revival

Mario Lopez Claims Small Children Shouldn’t Choose Their Gender. What’s Worse – That Or His Christian Faith?

The Episcopal Church Eyes Giving God A Sex Change

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Skillet’s Lead Singer Gives Christians a Reality Check After Faith Influencers Publicly Abandon the Faith

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A rash of Christian youth leaders has publicly announced that they’re losing their faith via social media outlets. For those who follow them closely, and/or came to God through them, this is potentially a hard blow to their faith as well.

I was seeing reports about these faltering leaders and even I felt downhearted. While my personal faith wasn’t shaken, we live in a time where God is quickly becoming something of a secondary thought in our society, and it shows. People are miserable and directionless. They lack purpose and their lives feel shallow.

With these Christian youth leaders walking away from the faith, this problem can only deepen.

Enter John Cooper of the Christian rock band “Skillet.”

Cooper saw, as much of the Christian did, the announcement from Hillsong songwriter Marty Sampson on the renunciation of his faith. Taking to Facebook, Cooper noted that we’ve made it the influencer’s job to be the leaders of our faith, not Christ and that we’ve made our faith emotion-based, not truth-based.

“Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity?” began Cooper’s blistering post. “More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?)as they announce that they are leaving the faith.”

Cooper noted that making internet influencers and celebrities the most relevant people in Christianity has to stop and that relying on modern songs to teach the Gospel instead of the Gospel itself is a mistake that can potentially lead people astray. He even includes himself for good measure:

My conclusion for the church(all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years(and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?

Cooper also wrote on the flaring foolishness of these influencers wanting to stay influencers despite the fact that they seem to be directionless themselves:

I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?

After calling out how cavalier these influencers are being with other people’s lives by “being real,” Cooper calls out these leader’s ideas that no one is addressing hard Biblical issues but them:

Thirdly, there is a common thread running through these leaders/influencers that basically says that “no one else is talking about the REAL stuff.” This is just flatly false. I just read today in a renown worship leader’s statement, “How could a God of love send people to hell? No one talks about it.” As if he is the first person to ask this? Brother, you are not that unique. The church has wrestled with this for 1500 years. Literally. Everybody talks about it. Children talk about it in Sunday school. There’s like a billion books written on the topic. Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with it. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Cooper concludes by essentially saying we need to turn back to the Word of God and leave behind the word of influencers who are driven more by emotion than faith. He warns not to follow these leaders as they try to get people to follow them when they don’t even know where they’re going:

It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.

Is it any wonder that some of our disavowed Christian leaders are letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible and subsequently their lives are falling apart? Further and further they are sinking in the sea all the while shouting “now I’ve found the truth! Follow me!!” Brothers and sisters in the faith all around the world, pastors, teachers, worship leaders, influencers…I implore you, please please in your search for relevancy for the gospel, let us NOT find creative ways to shape Gods word into the image of our culture by stifling inconvenient truths. But rather let us hold on even tighter to the anchor of the living Word of God. For He changes NOT. “The grass withers and the flowers fade away, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8)

I wanted to highlight this because Cooper has a point. It can be damaging to see someone who leads flocks go astray themselves, but we shouldn’t be considering them our leaders in the first place. God is the leader. People falter and lose faith all the time. Every Christian goes through having their faith tested to the breaking point.

It bugs me that these so-called faith leaders would be so shallow as to suddenly make it a public show of renouncing the faith they promoted and became a beacon for so many for. As Cooper said, it’s awfully cavalier, and not at all brave or “real.”

If you would like to read Cooper’s Facebook post in full, you can read it below.

The post Skillet’s Lead Singer Gives Christians a Reality Check After Faith Influencers Publicly Abandon the Faith appeared first on RedState.

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