Heresy Hunters



I watched CBS’s “60 Minutes” a couple of Sunday night’s ago.  Scott Pelley interviewed King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein, the King of Jordan.


They talked about terrorism.

They talked about refugees.

They talked about ISIS (He’s causing them fits.)

They talked about how “think tanks” in the West think “they know us better than we know ourselves.”

They talked about Islam.


You can read the interview here.


I learned a lot. But this is the biggie.


The King said this about Islam:  “…in Islam, us traditional Muslims, it is not our right to call people heretics.  God decides at the end of the day.  The jihadists take it upon themselves to call the rest of us heretics…”


Did you catch that?  “In Islam, it is not our right to call people heretics.  God decides at the end of the day.”


That hit home with me.

I’ve been called a heretic more than a few times.


Christians throw the “heretic” word around like pizza chefs throw pizza dough. Hold a view that differs from some Christians?  Watch out for the “H-bomb!


You’ve heard of “witch hunts?”  This is a heresy hunt.


The first heresy hunters were members of the ancient tribe of Manasseh called Gileadites.  There had been a longstanding feud between them and the Ephraimites in northern Israel.  To make sure no undesirables got into their camp, the Gileadites set up a check point at the fords of the Jordan River.  They challenged anyone trying to cross the river to say the password: “shibboleth.” The Ephraimites, no matter how hard they tried, just could not properly pronounce the word.  It always came out “sibboleth.”  When that happened, the Gileadites would cut off their heads.  All because they couldn’t pronounce the “sh” sound. I know: Crazy.  Check it out for yourself here.


Over the centuries the church has continued chopping off heads of people who didn’t say something the “right” way.

Iraenaeus, the Bishop of Lyons in the 2nd century, claimed there was only one proper Church, outside of which there could be no salvation.  Other Christians were heretics and should be expelled, and, if possible, eliminated – killed.


By the 5th century there were over a hundred active statutes in the Roman Empire concerning heresy.  From Augustine onward,  most theologians agreed that heretics should be persecuted.  Thomas Aquinas thought it was a good thing to burn heretics.  Even better to burn them alive.


Any deviation from the current orthodoxy line could be judged as heretical.


Here are few things you could lose your head over:

Allowing women to preach – 12th century (and in some churches today!).


Eating  meat on Friday.

Refusing to take oaths or make a pledge (The Waldensians of the 12th century – and some people today).

Translating the Bible into common languages.

Baptizing adults instead of children.

Opposing capital punishment.

Hanging the 10 Commandments on a wall (1676).

Believing/teaching that the earth revolves around the sun.


The punishments for heretical thinking varied:  Yes, there was the traditional beheading. But there were some more creative methods that would make some politicians proud:

*The Judas Chair:  The “heretic” would be placed in a harness and lowered onto a pyramid-shaped seat, with the point inserted into their anus or vagina, then very slowly lowered by ropes. The torture might last a few hours or a few days.   More often than not, the victim died of infection.

*Drowning-especially for Anabaptist for their views on baptism.

*Skinned alive.

*Some had their mouths stuffed with gun-powder which was then ignited.


*Children were killed in front of their parents.  


All in the name of Jesus.


The hunt continues today for people who don’t say things “right.”


All in the name of Jesus.


When Jesus describes the final judgment scene he doesn’t include questions on belief.  Nothing  about inerrancy, the Trinity, or atonement theory. His concern is how theology translates into how we treat people.


“I was hungry, did you feed me? I was thirsty, did you give  me something to drink?   I was in prison, did you visit me?  I was naked, did you give me clothes to wear?  I was sick, did you take care of me (Matthew 25:31-46)?


Theology matters.  I get that.  But how do we tell the difference between good theology and bad theology?  


Is it, as Jesus indicates, how we treat people (Matthew 7:12)?


The King of Jordan admitted that there are heresy hunters in Islam — yep, we know them – jihadist, ISIS.


What does that say about the heresy hunters in Christianity?




Until I was 10 years old, I had a speech impediment.  There were some letters I just couldn’t pronounce. The impediment resurfaces every once in awhile. It can be a bit embarrassing while teaching.  If you ask me to say “shibboleth,” I may not say it right.


According to some, I don’t “believe” right.  

That’s ok.  
It’s still my desire to live in each moment.  To hear in each moment the voice of Jesus say, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant…”  

An 8-Year-Old Superhero


Last Friday was the first day with my Lunch Buddy for the new school year.  The “Lunch Buddies Program,”  part of “Big Brothers Big Sisters,” matches a volunteer with an elementary age child.

This is the 3rd year my lunch buddy and I have been buddies.  We eat lunch together, talk, play “Sorry” (his rules), go to the playground and play tag (with my inhaler handy), slide down the slides, swing on the swings, monkey across the monkey bars.

I love that 30 minutes a week.

I love that kid.


The idea is for the volunteer to help the kid.  You know, though, it goes both ways.  More times than not, he’s more a “helper” to me than I am to him.

Friday, he was the helper, the teacher, the adult.  I was the kid.


We were in the school library, eating lunch while playing a game.   I noticed a new book on display – a book on Superman.

So, I said, “If I were a superhero, I’d love to fly. Just run down the street, jump up and fly!”

I posed the question to him, “What would you do if you were a superhero?”


I was expecting web-spinning or wall-climbing like Spiderman.

Super strength like the Incredible Hulk.

X-ray vision like Superman.

Self-healing like the Wolverine.

Having cool stuff like Batman.


But no.  He went a totally different direction.


Here is his answer.

You ready?

“I’d like to help people,” he said.  




I felt small enough to crawl under the kid-sized library table at which we were sitting.

I was schooled.


“Your answer is a lot better than mine!” I told him raising my hand to give him a fist-bump.  


And it was.  No doubt.  


Is this what Jesus meant when he held up a child and said, “The kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children” (Luke 18:16)?


My lunch buddy doesn’t know this verse but he certainly lives it: “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21).  


I knew the verse but wasn’t living it.


When I left the school, my lunch buddy hugged me and said, “Thank you for coming to see me.”  

“You’re welcome,” I responded, ”Thank you for teaching me today.”

Olympic Fever


Do you have Olympic fever?

No, I’m not talking about the Zika Virus, or catching something from Guanabara Bay. I’m talking about “Gotta watch it” fever.

I thought I was immune to the fever this time around, but I caught it after only a few minutes of watching.

There are a lot of storylines to follow beyond mosquitoes and toxic bays.

  • Michael Phelps winning his 21st Gold Medal.  I like this joke from Eric Bransteen: “If you drink your milk and smoke this blunt, one day you’ll win as many gold medals as Michael Phelps.” — a dad trying to inspire his kid.  I have to admit, the Gold Medals and Marijuana combo crossed my mind.
  • Gymnast Osksana Chusovitina is competing in her 7th Olympics.  She is 41 years old!  I saw her perform while sitting on my couch with a bowl of Air-popped popcorn in my lap.
  • Cupping?

Then there is this:

The Refugee Team. A group of 10 athletes, with no home, no flag, no national anthem.  They share the common experience of being displaced.


Some fled wars, kidnappings and persecution.

Others’ homes were destroyed.

Some were separated from their families at a young age.

Some were caged and starved for losing competitions in their home nation.

Yusra Mardini is on the team.  She’s a refugee from Syria.

A swimmer.

Good thing. Because the motor on the flimsy dinghy she and 19 other refugees were using to escape stopped.  The teenager dove into the water and helped pull the dinghy for over three hours to the Greek Island of Lesbos, saving all on board.  No swimming competition she faces in Rio will compare with that act of endurance and bravery.

Speaking of her team of refugees, Yusra says, “We are still humans.  We can do something.  We can achieve.”

I wonder if she has been made to feel less than human.

That can happen.  Maybe that’s why Exodus 23:9 admonished the Israelites and maybe us, “You shall not oppress a stranger (ger – an outsider, a resident who has no family or clan to look after him) for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

The Bible’s charge is based on empathy.  The Israelites had “walked a mile” in the immigrants’ shoes.  “Since you know what it feels like to be a stranger, you must never abuse or oppress the stranger.”

The Israelites were to love the immigrant because Deuteronomy 10:18-19 says that the God they worship loves the immigrant.

If we love God, it makes sense that we love what/who He loves.

One more story from the Olympics is thought-provoking:  The opening ceremony. Not Gisele Bundchen and her runway walk, but the comments by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach:

“We are living in a world of crises, mistrust, and uncertainty.   Here is our answer: the 10,000  best athletes in the world, competing with each other, at the same time living peacefully together in one Olympic Village, sharing their meals and their emotions.  In this Olympic world, we see that the values of our shared humanity are stronger than the forces which want to divide us.”  

James describes a similar world in James 3:16, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  Sounds like “crises, mistrust, and uncertainty.”

The solution?

The Olympic goal “…is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity?

James’ solution?

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness.  Then it is peace-loving and courteous.  It allows discussion and is willing to yield to others; it is full of mercy and good deeds” (James 3:17).  Then he closes out with this powerful challenge:  “You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor” (James 3:18 The Message).  

Watching the Olympics, for me, goes beyond cheering for your team. And I cheer loudly!

It’s bigger.  Much bigger.

It’s seeing that we are all basically the same.  Same dreams. Same disappointments.

It’s seeing a universal desire for peace.

It’s seeing the path to peace is recognizing the dignity of all people, of each individual.

Shooting Hoops on My 60th



I turned 60 last month.


The same thing we say about milk that’s gone bad.

“The milk has turned sour.”

“Phillip has turned 60.”


People were great with their birthday wishes:

“I can hardly remember 60….”  Everything is relative.

“Happy Birthday, you six decade old fart.”

“60 is Sexy.”  At least Denise thinks so. Don’t they call a person 60-69 a sexagenarian?  It fits.

And then there were some “made me cry” comments.  In a good way.


Decade birthdays, for most people, are bigger than the others.

Several weeks before the big event, Denise and my kids asked me what gift I wanted for the occasion.

I didn’t hesitate with an answer.  I had been thinking about it for a while.

“I want a basketball goal in the driveway.”

“No, really, what do you want?”

“Really, that’s what I want.”

So, I now have a basketball goal in my driveway.


My sons and daughter’s-in-law came over yesterday, and the boys and I put it together and rolled it out of the garage into position.

Denise and I broke it in with a game of H-O-R-S-E and “Around the World” yesterday evening.


Why would a 60 year old guy – an empty-nester – want a basketball goal in his driveway?

It takes me back.  Turns back the clock…

To my childhood…to my son’s childhood.

Dad showing me the underhand free throw that was they did it back in his day.

My boys and I talking and shooting hoops.  Our best conversations were not held in my study, but in our driveway.  There’s something about a ball that brings out stuff in guys.

It takes me away.  It’s a mental break.

There are  times that it is just me, the ball, the hoop, and my thoughts.


Shooting baskets can be a highly personal, solitary activity, or a completely social one.  It is both for me.  So don’t be surprised if you drive by my house to see this sexagenarian shooting hoops.

It may be for a few minutes.  Maybe for an hour.

I know this for sure:  It will be a good time.

Do We Have Enough Religion?

One Pulse

Jonathan Swift, 17th Century Satirist, Clergyman, Writer (Gulliver’s Travels), Political Activist said, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”

I wonder why that is.

But I don’t question it.

I see it.  All around.  In different religions.

The shooter, who claimed to be Muslim, on June 12.

The response to the shooting by those claiming to be Christian:

Pastor Roger Jimenez from Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento told his congregation, “Christians shouldn’t be mourning the death of 50 sodomites…the tragedy is that more of them didn’t die.  The tragedy is – I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job…I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.” 

Jimenez posted his sermon, in which he made these remarks, on his church’s website under the title, “The Christian response to the Orlando murders.”

So that’s the Christian response? That’s how Jesus would respond?

Pastor Steven Anderson, who has previously said that gay people are “worthy of death,” weighed in with these words:

“The Bible says that homosexuals should be put death in Leviticus 20:13.  Obviously, it’s not right for someone to just shoot up the place because that’s not going through the proper channels.  But these people all should have been killed anyway but they should have been killed through the proper channels as in, they should have been executed by a righteous government that would have tried them, convicted them, and saw them them executed…That’s what the Bible says. Plain and simple…the bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re going to continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle.”

Hateful speech has punctured the airwaves for years:

In 2012, Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in North Carolina told his congregation, “Build a  great, big large fence – 150 or 100 mile long – put all the lesbians in there…Do the same things for queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out…and you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out…do you know why?  They can’t reproduce!”

Last year, Matt McLaughlin proposed a ballot measure in California mandating the execution of all homosexuals by “bullets to the head” or “any other convenient method.” He explained that it is “better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God’s just wrath.”

Connecting gays with God’s punishment is not new.

John Hagee, in a 2006 interview, described Hurricane Katrina as “God’s retribution for a planned gay pride parade.

In 1988, as Hurricane Bonnie set its course toward Orlando, Pat Robertson pre-emptively blamed gays at Disney World’s Gay Days Weekend for being the cause of the pending storm.  “Hold the judgment, Pat!” The storm changed course, completely missed Florida but hit the rest of the East coast.  One of the hardest hit areas was Hampton Roads, VA, where Robertson’s 700 Club is based.  Oops.

Following the 9-11 attack, Jerry Falwell said, “I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way all of them who have tried to secularize America.  I point the finger in their face and say, ‘you helped this happen.’”

In January, 2016, Franklin Graham said in a radio interview,

“We have allowed the Enemy to come into our churches.  I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them.  And I thought to myself, they’re not going to influence those kids; those kids are going to  influence those parent’s children.  

What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving.  We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do. He wants to devour our homes.  He wants to devour this nation and we have to be so careful who we let out kids hang out with.  We have to be careful who we let into the churches.  You have immoral people who get into the churches and it begins to effect the others in the church and it is dangerous.”

LGBT kids, the enemy?  Did he really say that?

40% of homeless children in the United States are LGBTQ.

68% of them report their homelessness is due to family rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, often by religious parents.

Is there a connection between those statistics and the sentiment expressed in Franklin’s words?  How could there not be?

Is there any wonder why our LGBTQ friends hesitate or refuse to enter the doors of most churches?

How much religion do we have? Enough to love?

Are we following the ethical progression in the Bible?  God calls us to a higher and higher ethic.  I see this in Jesus’ repeated phrase: “You have heard it said…but I say to you…”

The Bible, in both Testaments, condone slavery.  Yet, we abhor and condemn slavery today.  Why? Ethical progression.  Jesus is constantly calling us to a higher ethic of love.  The Spirit of Jesus has transformed how we interpret and apply the Biblical passages on slavery.

It’s easy to look at the Orlando shooting and make judgments about the shooter’s religion.

Are we willing to look at our own?


From Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali

Ali punch

I was confused.  I was 10 years old.

Why did Cassius Clay change his name to Muhammad Ali?

Why wasn’t he a Christian anymore?
And what is this Muslim religion he now followed?

Why would anyone walk away from Christianity?
Why were so many people mad at him?

There was a lot more to Muhammad Ali than a “jab.”  The May 5, 1969 issue of Sports Illustrated reported that Ali’s jab could smash a balsa board 16.5 inches away in 19/100 of a second.  It actually covered the distance in 4/100 of a second.

In the blink of an eye.

Ali was the fastest heavyweight ever.  Those lightening fast hands and a pair of legs that moved around the ring like Fred Astaire made him a three-time heavyweight champion of the world.  He made a total of 19 successful title defenses.

Your hands can’t hit

What your eyes can’t see

Float like a butterfly

Sting like a bee

Ali was a force in the ring and a force outside of it. It was outside of the ring that Ali stirred up so much controversy.

His anti-Vietnam war stance: 

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

“I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong…No Vietcong ever called me N – -r….they never lynched me. They didn’t put no dogs on me…”
The Olympic gold medal Ali may or may not have thrown into the Ohio River: 

Ali was refused service in a Louisville restaurant after he won an Olympic gold medallion Rome. One story says that Ali got so mad he threw his medal into the Ohio River.  Later, Ali said he just lost it.  Ali recounted the story here:

“I done whipped the world for America.  I took my gold medal and said, ‘I know I’m going to get my people free now.  I’m the champion of the whole world. I know I can eat downtown now.’  And I went downtown that day, with my medal on, and went in arestaurant.  Things weren’t integrated then and black folks couldn’t eat in the restaurants downtown, and I sat down, and order a cup of coffee and a hamburger and the lady said, ‘We don’t serve Negroes.’  I was so mad, I said, ‘I don’t eat ‘em either. Just give me a cup of coffee and a hamburger.’  I told her, ‘I won the gold medal. I fought for this country and won.  I’m going to eat.’  She talked to the manager and I had to leave that restaurant in my hometown, where I went to their church and served in their Christianity, and daddy fought in all the wars, and could’t eat in their restaurants.  And I said, ‘Something’s wrong.’  And from then on, I’ve been a Muslim.’” 

There it is:  “And from then on, I’ve been a Muslim.”

Before he was a Muslim, Ali was a Christian, of the Baptist variety.  But he dropped Christianity and picked up Islam.

Being the son of a Baptist pastor and living in a world that revolved around Christianity and the church, this really bothered me.

  • “Why would he do that?”
  • “What’s wrong with him?”
  • “What’s wrong with Christianity that Ali would want to leave it?”
  • Ali, when he was Clay, was a Baptist.  I was a Baptist (at the time).
  • “What’s wrong with being a Baptist?”
  • “Why would he not want to be one anymore?”
  • “Why would a young man, raised in the Baptist tradition of the Christian faith, drop it and pick up something else?”

Rather than looking down at Ali, as was done, maybe we should be looking hard at ourselves.

Look hard at the racism in the southern Christian churches. The prevailing orthodoxy was that non-whites were inferior spiritually, morally, and mentally. Racism remained longest where Christian belief was the strongest.  It was not bishops or preachers but freethinkers, secularists, and atheists intellectuals who spread the idea that all should be treated equally.

Ali said, “I chose to follow the Islamic path because I never saw so much love, so much people hugging each other…As a Christian in America I couldn’t go to the white churches.”

At the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, you will see this drawing by Ali, contrasting his experience of the difference between Islam and Christianity.  It speaks for itself:Ali-on-Christianity-1024x768

In the book, The Christ and the Indian Road, by E. Stanley Jones, the author tells about asking Gandhi how to naturalize Christianity into India.  Gandhi answered, “I would suggest first of all that all of you Christians, missionaries and all, begin to live more like Jesus Christ.”

I wonder if the story of Cassius Clay would have been different had Christians lived more like Jesus Christ. I wonder if I’m pushing anyone away from Christianity because I’m not living like Jesus.

I’ve heard it called the United States of Amnesia.  We must not forget how our past, present and future are woven together.

  • Let’s remember Muhammad Ali.
  • Let’s remember the culture in which he lived.
  • Let’s repent of any attitudes and actions that don’t reflect Jesus.

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was founded in 1845 after Baptists in the North and the South clashed on the issue of slavery.  The SBC has been known for backing slavery then and in more recent history, racism.  In 1995 the SBC apologized for supporting racial injustice, for “condoning and or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime, and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

  • Let’s use our memories of the past to motivate us to create a better present and future.


If it Matters to God, it Should Matter to Us

What matters


On May, 1 the church I pastor replaced our regularly scheduled Sunday services with “acts of service,” performing service projects for organizations throughout our community.  It’s the second year we’ve done so.

At the “pre-service” kick-off that morning, I read portions of Isaiah 1:2,11-17:

Hear me you heavens! Listen, earth!

For the LORD has spoken:

“The multitude of your sacrifices – 

What are they to me?” says the LORD.

“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,

of rams, and the fat of fattened animals;

I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

Stop bringing meaningless offering! 
Your incense is detestable to me…

Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals

I hate with all my being.

They have become a burden to me…

When you spread to your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you…

This was breaking news.

Universe-wide – “Heavens and earth.”

God tells us what matters to Him

Offerings? Nope.

Incense?  Detestable to Him.

Feasts and festivals? Hates them. A burden to Him.

Prayer? He doesn’t hear.

Sacrifices?  Surely He values the sacrifices!  That’s how they dealt with sin.  Sacrifices

served as the basis for the whole redemption system.

But look at these words:

“What are they to me?”

“I’ve had more than enough…”

“I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.”

Wait. What?  God doesn’t like blood sacrifices? This really is breaking news!

A quick cross-reference took me here:

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings” (Psalm 51:16).

“Sacrifices and meal offerings You have not desired…Burnt offerings and sin offerings You have not required (Psalm 40:6).

“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).  

Sin offerings…

“No delight.”

“No pleasure.”

“Not desired.”

“Not required.”

It sounds like sin offerings and sacrifices for sin are not at the top of God’s list of priorities for us. Does that shock you?  It kind of does me.

So what is?


The answer is seen in what Isaiah continues to write:

“Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow ” (Isaiah 1:17).

Here’s the answer through the prophet Hosea:

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).  

Jesus picks up the theme in a rumble with the religious leaders and tells them, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).

Jesus repeats the idea in Matthew 12:7 when the Pharisees criticized him for letting his disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath.

Twice, Jesus tells us to go learn what it means when God says he desires mercy, not sacrifice.

Jesus is telling us to go back to school.  I wonder how many of us missed this lesson.  Why haven’t we taught the lesson?  Why have we mixed up God’s priorities?

One of my all-time favorite Christian songs was written and recorded by Steven Curtis Chapman, “The Walk.”

Chapman based his song on these words from Micah:

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. 

And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.”

Is the title of this post true? “If it matters to God, it should matter to us.”

I told the people before we took to the streets that, to the best of my understanding, we were doing that day what mattered to God.

What do we learn?

What really matters to God?