I must admit: I was reluctant to publicly share my views on President Obama's recent same-sex marriage statement. His presidency has caused separation within the ranks of African-American leadership too often.
And yet, what does an African-American pastor do when his African-American president makes a decision that eventually will destroy the foundation of not only the African-American community, but the nation as a whole?
Does that pastor take a risk that he will be misunderstood and labeled as an "Uncle Tom," a Republican Party pawn, or someone "the white man has bought out?" If I do not take the risk, knowing that mentality in itself is as discriminatory as it gets, I become a co-conspirator in keeping us in bondage to our culture; suggesting that none of us is free to think or speak outside of what we are told.
It appears Mitt Romney has virtually won the GOP race for the nomination. Therefore, it’s time to focus on the race between him and President Obama for 2012. From now until November, I’ll occasionally write about the candidates from a media perspective, so I’ll start here with a couple of recommendations. This isn’t about ideology, it’s about perception and how the candidates engage the media. Here’s one bit of advice each could use:
There are many misconceptions about the Hollywood; these are the biggest myths I've encountered.
1. Hollywood hates Christians. The fact is, Hollywood—and most of the mainstream media—is ignorant of all things “Christian.” Most of the media leaders in this country are simply not people of any faith background, so while it may appear they dislike issues of faith, the truth is they just don’t get it. In fact, the majority of people I’ve encountered at high levels of influence in the industry are very interested when we discuss spiritual issues and have no problem at all with my faith.
2. All I need is a great script. The process of making movies or television programming is complex and multi-layered. Many years ago, a major industry magazine did a feature story on “The Best Scripts No One Will Ever Produce.” Today, at industry gatherings, we still discuss brilliant scripts floating around town and why they’re not getting produced. It’s often a matter of finding the right cast and crew, political or cultural timing, budget issues, legal problems and more. A great script is a critical starting point, but that doesn’t necessarily mean clear sailing for your project.
Regarding my last post on why so many pioneering media ministries collapsed, why did others survive? What did they have that others didn’t? Did God just bless them more, or are there identifiable traits that we could focus on and learn for the future. I think the latter’s true, and here’s a few thoughts why some pioneering Christian media ministries have not just survived, but thrived:
1. They weren’t afraid to change. When Joyce Meyer called me into our first meeting, she had frankly hit a wall. Her fundraising, donor development, TV and mail response—all of it was pretty flat. It took some time, but I had to make her understand how critical it was to change, and that there was no going back. It took a few months of give and take, but when she finally “got it,” a light went on and she never looked back. About that time, her youngest son, Dan, came onboard as ministry COO and helped me take it to another level entirely. He took her to the Hillsong Conference in Australia, and when she saw that, she came back a changed woman. She let us make employee changes, redesign the TV department, lose the dress codes, make some structural changes in the organization, and in a very short time, things dramatically turned around. Now today, Joyce Meyer lives for change both personally and professionally, and her response from donors and her audience is incredible.
Of the classic and pioneering media ministries of the last 50 years, very few are recognizable anymore. As a result, I believe that era is definitely over.
The Crystal Cathedral has officially closed escrow and the iconic glass sanctuary designed by architect Philip Johnson is now a Catholic church. But the sale represents much more than how one media ministry lost it’s way.
Oral Roberts built the most successful media ministry of his time, and the massive financial response built a university. But it became apparent that a second generation of leadership couldn’t sustain it.
Today, his son Richard has left the university and the ministry media outreach is a fraction of the size it was at one time. Now, thanks to new leadership like Mart Green and Dr. Mark Rutland, Oral Roberts University is experiencing a rebirth and explosion in growth, but only because it’s in fresh, new hands.
Every year we make New Year’s resolutions, and every year we forget them by March. But what if we could actually make our goals happen? What if we could actually stick with it?
To make resolutions work we have to first learn how to make change happen in our lives—how to embrace it, and how it use it to take us to the next level. So this year, before you lock in resolutions, let’s study this list of how to position ourselves for change. I’ll pulled these from my book Jolt! and I think they’ll help you in 2012:
We’re seeing a real rise in what I would call “ministry divas.” These are men and women who are pastors, or ministry or spiritual leaders whose focus is more on themselves than the people they serve. As a public service to our readers, the global research team at Cooke Pictures has developed a list of warning signs that someone might be a ministry diva. The following warning signs can apply to either a man or a woman:
1. He doesn’t participate in worship. He only comes out to preach. 2. He’s escorted on and off the platform so he doesn’t actually have to mingle with people. 3. He has multiple assistants—or what some call “armor-bearers” to carry his cell phone, Bible, man-purse, etc. 4. He doesn’t travel that much, but needs a private jet when he does. 5. When he visits other churches, he naturally assumes he’ll get either a seat on the platform or a front row seat. 6. When he promotes his books, he always calls it a “best-seller” even though it wasn’t. 7. He makes ever growing demands on the church for more free time, bigger perks, larger personal staff, etc. 8. He spends more on his wardrobe and cars than the church spends on the children’s program. 9. Divorce is OK for him, because of the ministry pressures he’s under. So when it happens, he doesn’t need to step down or submit to counseling—he doesn’t need it. 10. When he advertises a conference in magazines or other places, his picture is the biggest thing on the ad.
Have you noticed other warning signs we should be looking for?
Whatever you think about the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWS), it's instructive to take a look at the strategy. Today, anyone who needs to engage the larger culture to share an important message needs to think seriously about issues like perception, platforms, competition, timing, passion and more. That's why churches, ministries and nonprofit organizations could learn from what's working and not working with Occupy Wall Street.
At our company, Cooke Pictures, our first job is to help our clients get noticed in a crowded, cluttered marketplace of ideas. Then, it's to get that target audience to embrace or act on those ideas. From that perspective, here's a few strategy related thoughts about Occupy Wall Street:
TV telethons have become a staple of Christian broadcasting networks. Nearly all non-commercial networks do them, and they’re a key way to motivate viewers to support their programming. I’m not against telethons, and I’m wide open to any good idea what will help finance better programming. After all, everyone from causes like Muscular Dystrophy, to Public Broadcasting does them regularly, so whatever you may think of the concept, it seems to work. The question I have is: Is it acceptable to re-play or re-run telethons? After all, it’s about raising money, and in the vast majority of telethons, there are “live” elements like telling us the amount of money that’s coming in, the number of callers, and some even have live graphics telling you how many phones are busy, or clocks counting down to the total. (Remember the classic thermometer?)
Of course all of these techniques are designed to increase the urgency and drive people to the phones to give. However, when the show is re-run, all those numbers, amounts, and requests aren’t true anymore. Essentially, are they raising money on false pretenses?
Plus – it opens the door to a lot of confusion on other issues. For instance, recently, Trinity Broadcasting Network announced that Paul Crouch Jr. was leaving the network. But by replaying an apparently old telethon this past week, we see Paul Jr. prominently on the stage throughout the broadcast. That leaves a lot of questions in people’s minds. What’s the truth here?
I’d love to hear your opinion. I’m not even getting into the questionable theology that you hear on some networks, stretching scripture to encourage people to give. Maybe we’ll talk about that some other time. And as I mentioned, it’s not the concept of telethons that’s being questioned here. I’m cool with that. It’s just the idea of re-running something that’s already happened for purposes of raising money.
Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Or should television networks – especially Christian television networks – have more integrity and give us the real scoop on how they raise money?
A look at the parallels between sinners and smokers.
No one stinks like a smoker does. It’s true, and what’s more, they don’t realize how bad they smell. The reason they smell so poorly is that they have deadened the sensitivity of their nose. They literally can’t smell the stench that a non-smoker can smell.
The conscience is like a nose. It sniffs out the stench of sin. Someone who has deadened the sensitivity of his conscience literally can’t detect how morally bad he is. That’s why we need God’s Law. It stirs the conscience so that it can detect sin. When the conscience does its bloodhound duty, it shows us that we don’t smell like a rose, but that even our very best deeds stink (for want of a better word) to high Heaven. Check out Isaiah 64:6 and Romans 3:10-20 to sniff out more details.
Each December I urge my congregation to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. The worry my fellow pastors and I share is that the solemn message of Christ’s birth gets overshadowed by the commercialization, jingle bells, and Santa-fication of the yuletide season.
As we turn the calendar’s pages to yet another Memorial Day, I feel compelled to issue a similar challenge, one I offer not as a clergyman but as an American. Simply, let’s not lose focus about what this most solemn of national holidays should really be about.
With regret, my family was unable to attend the homecoming celebration of our dear friend, David Wilkerson. Due to my own personal sickness, Jeri and I and our family could not be present to pay tribute to this man who so radically changed our lives.
The story of Teen Challenge is the story of Steve and Jeri Hill. Christ was brought to us and nurtured in us through this ministry. It’s with tears in my eyes that I say, thank you brother Dave, for being there for us.
Nearly 13 years ago, I was working on the CharismaNow television broadcast when Steve Strang handed me one of the most amazing honors in my professional and personal life. My assignment: Interview David Wilkerson and Nicky Cruz at Times Square Church in New York City. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of Teen Challenge, and Charisma had already covered the story in print.
I once lived in New York and had the chance to meet both of these stirring preachers. Like millions of others, I was first exposed to David Wilkerson’s ministry through his book, The Cross and the Switchblade, but when I began attending the Brooklyn Tabernacle, I had the enormous privilege of hearing him preach many times. He and my own pastor, Jim Cymbala, were very close friends. They shared similar passions—their hunger to know God, compassion for the lost, and their desire to see the church fully engaged in fulfilling its calling and mission in the world.
Everyone has heroes--or at least people they respect. David Wilkerson was one of mine, along with John the Baptist and a few others. So I was deeply saddened when my daughter called and said that he had been killed in a car accident. Of course there was the sweet knowledge that he was with the Lord, but there was also the bitter reality that we no longer had him here on earth.
His passing brought back a flood of memories. Back in 1980, I screened the movie that was based on his best-selling book, Cross and the Switchblade. It starred Erik Estrada (from the television series CHiPs) as Nicky Cruz, the hardened gang member who mocked the naive country preacher who had come to his rough neighborhood.
Christian evangelist Ray Comfort explains why natural disasters, such as earthquakes, only confirm God’s existence rather than deny it.
“I was actually in this earthquake ... I live in Tokyo and it was the scariest thing that I have ever been in. I was in Kitasenju teaching English when it struck and after the initial shock we all ventured outside. I saw a mother of about 27/28 clutching her newborn to her chest in fear as the temperature got colder and colder and colder. Fallen creation? What are you talking about? I will NEVER accept this. NEVER. Do you hear me Ray? You can SCREAM this in my face for the rest of time. I WILL NEVER ACCEPT WHAT YOU SAY.”
Creation is absolute evidence of a Creator. It didn’t make itself. So to suddenly say that God doesn’t exist because we have killer earthquakes and horrific tsunamis (such as the March 2011 tragedy) is to be in denial of something we all intuitively know. The question is rather, “Is God impotent?” Did He have the ability to create this infinite universe, with suns that dwarf ours massive sun, and yet He can’t stop a tremor on this little earth? The question itself is rhetorical, but it’s covered in Scripture when we are told, “With God, nothing is impossible.” So it then becomes, “Why did almighty God allow it, and its terrible train of unspeakable suffering and death?”
Atheism has no consolation for us, other than to say that such pain is the result of an indifferent “nature” that created itself, and is still in the process of creating. Richard Dawkins said, “Nature is not cruel, pitiless, indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous -- indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.” [A Devil's Chaplain & Other Selected Essays, by Richard Dawkins]
However, the Bible has the consoling answer. It says that we live in a “Fallen Creation” (see Genesis 1-3). We are like an alcoholic who is in denial, adamantly saying that all is well, and yet the symptoms of alcoholism are clearly evident as he staggers toward you.
Here is just some of the evidence that humanity has a serious problem–earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados, disease, suffering and death. The Bible says the whole of creation “groans in travail” under the Fall (see Romans 8:22)—the “curse” of Genesis. Those who understand this don’t lose faith in God when terrible tragedies shake a world in denial. Each one of them instead reminds us that all isn’t well. For the world they should be a wake-up call—a slap in our drunken face--a reminder that we are not apes with no moral responsibility, as so many are trying to have us believe. All is far from well between sinful man and a holy God. We have a problem. A big one, that is more serious than a heart attack.
For someone to accept that we live in a fallen creation means that they have to accept that we are sinners—that we aren’t the good folks we say we are. It means that we have moral responsibility—that when a man rapes a woman and slits her throat, God will hold him accountable. It means that Hitler will face God on Judgment Day for the mass murder of so many innocents. It means that God is just, and that Hell therefore is a real place of punishment for the wicked. These are not pleasant thoughts when we realize that God is morally perfect, that he sees the thought-life and considers lust to be adultery and hatred to be murder. That puts all of us, with our unquenchable thirst for (and addiction to) sin, in deep trouble.
Earthquakes tend to make us tremble. They show us that we don’t have total control. In the Book of Acts, there was a big quake that caused a hardened Philippian jailer to cry out to his prisoners “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”(see Acts 16:30). He wasn’t talking about the quake (that had already happened). He was talking about his relationship to the One he had angered by his sin.
Fortunately, God has more than a 12-step program for the hopeless alcoholic. When Jesus suffered in our place and rose from the dead, He balanced the scales of eternal justice. He paid the fine so that we could leave the courtroom. The cross is an expression of the love and mercy of God. He is “rich in mercy,” and can make us clean and sober with a new thirst for righteousness, and the ability to walk the straight and narrow.
I contacted a friend early in March of 2011, whom I hadn't seen for twenty years. He lived in my hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand, had always mocked me for my faith, and so I was surprised that he emailed back. He said that "god" greatly scared him in 2010 (he used profanity) with a 7.1 earthquake. When I then shared the gospel with him, he wrote back and mockingly said that he was guilty of breaking the Commandments, and that he going to Hell to “party.” The next day a killer quake hit, taking over 165 lives. When I contacted him again to see if he was okay, he soberly replied, "Tell your God I am sorry and please don't do that again." This time he used a capital for "God."
Tragedies have a way of putting the fear of God into those of us who are still living. Most of us, that is. Sadly, some may stay in denial and say, “Fallen creation? What are you talking about? I will NEVER accept this. NEVER. Do you hear me Ray? You can SCREAM this in my face for the rest of time. I WILL NEVER ACCEPT WHAT YOU SAY.” I hope you are not one of them.
"Sometimes we must step away from a situation to really see how God is working on our behalf. God is always doing something new. He has given you strategies and has shown you how to make it in dry places. Rely on Him."
Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. - Isaiah 43:19
(WNS)--While the nation watches to see how the new House leadership flexes its Tea Party-enhanced muscles, the legal campaign to strip the public square of any reminders of America's Christian heritage continues apace.
On Jan. 4, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 57-year-old cross atop the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in San Diego is unconstitutional. The decision runs counter to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a similar case at the Mojave National Preserve, as well as a district court ruling that said the Mount Soledad cross was not unconstitutional because it "communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice."
In finding the cross unconstitutional, Judge Mary Margaret McKeown, a 1998 Clinton appointee, wrote: "The history and absolute dominance of the Cross are not mitigated by the belated efforts to add less significant secular elements to the Memorial."
Perhaps the memorial keepers should have erected a 40-foot Frosty the Snowman next to the cross. Oops. That applies only to Nativity scenes and Christmas trees on public land. I'm getting the sops to secular bullies mixed up.
The problem seems to be that the cross is just too big and obvious. That makes it ipso facto offensive. The 43-foot concrete structure can be seen from Interstate 5, for instance. It's a wonder that the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the suit, hasn't claimed that the cross has caused multiple accidents as atheist, Wiccan, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim motorists clutch their hearts and keel over their steering wheels upon spying it. Given that the hillside has sported a highly visible cross since 1913, it's safe to conclude that millions of motorists have made it through that scary stretch without incident. It's probably less safe to claim this in areas with noxious billboards for "adult" services, but I haven't checked accident statistics, so let's not go there.
The key aspect that the court ignored in its tortured finding of the First Amendment's secret intent to wipe out Christian symbols on public land is the element of coercion. Allowing mere expression is quite different from using government power to force observance.
As American Civil Rights Union General Counsel Peter Ferrara points out in his friend of the court brief in Jewish War Veterans v. the City of San Diego, "With a clear, simple standard rooted in the text of the Constitution and its surrounding history, this case is easily resolved. The cross at the federal Veterans' Memorial atop Mt. Soledad does not involve an unconstitutional establishment of religion because it does not involve coercion of any sort. It just sits there, without any specified message.
"Each visitor to the memorial is free to decide what the cross, and the memorial overall, means to them. They can take the cross as an expression of reverence for the nation's veterans, including those who suffered the supreme sacrifice. They can take it as an expression of hope that these lost loved ones will be seen again in some unknown future. They can take it as an expression of some religious message. However each visitor interprets the cross, they are also free to then accept or reject the message that they each discern."
Ferrara also notes that in 1776, Thomas Jefferson led the adoption of Virginia's Declaration of Rights and that the religious freedom clause in that Declaration states, "That religion, or the duty we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it can be directed only by reason or conviction, not by force or violence;and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience."
It's been tough sledding for public crosses. Even after the Supreme Court in April refused to order the removal of a 7-foot cross made of metal pipe at the Mojave National Preserve, where veterans had maintained a cross since 1934, vandals cut it down. In May, a court ordered a replacement also torn down pending further appeals. Previously, a court had ordered the cross covered in a plywood box, an apt expression of the death wish that secularists have for public religious symbols.
In Arizona, at the behest of an atheist group, a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that 14 roadside crosses, each 12 feet high and memorializing fallen Arizona Highway Patrolmen, are unconstitutional. On Jan. 6, the full court issued a stay of the order, giving the state 90 days in which to appeal.
The common thread in these cases is the confusion of expression with coercion. It would be nice if the new Congress found some way to coerce federal judges into living up to their oaths. The jurists should be upholding real constitutional rights instead of twisting the Constitution into a battering ram against any public edifice with religious underpinnings.
Robert Knight is a senior writer for Coral Ridge Ministries and a senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union.
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“Build your hope on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ, who is the solid rock. When you do not know what to do, grab hold of His love. So when the rain, the floods and the winds come, you can endure them.”
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.