It’s an election year in the United States, and the primaries are fast approaching. Voters are already being bombarded with reasons to vote for or against this or that candidate for national office. There are many important issues to consider: the economy, our national security, healthcare, and education, to name a few. Christians are encouraged to consider other issues as well: moral legislation, religious freedoms, and the preservation of Christian symbols and traditions in our national identity.
Most people are familiar with the two sides of the Church/State divide. One side believes religion should play no role in the public life of our nation. The other side believes Judeo-Christian beliefs and morals have played a vital role in securing the peace and prosperity we enjoy and should continue to define our national character.
Christians who argue that our nation needs a religious foundation for its laws and public policies are usually motivated by one of two things (or possibly both). The first is the belief that God desires this nation to be influenced and guided by Christian principles. The second is the fear that our nation and the blessings we enjoy are at risk if we stray from those principles. For the sincere Christian, both of these are strong motivations.
But what if it is not God’s desire for us to live in a “Christian nation”? What if the New Testament calls us to a very different kind of life? Should we let fear, tradition, national pride, or anything else keep us from fulfilling our true purpose?
Over the next few days, I would like to explore some of the hidden motivations that might affect our decision-making this election season. Most of the posts will be excerpts from my book, Separate for a Reason, which will be released next month. If you would like to read an advance copy of the book and hear my full argument in favor of separation of church and state in America, you can join my book launch team here or send me a message through my Contact page.
I hope you will come back and join the conversation!
Politics. Religion. Both can be difficult subjects to bring up with people who may not share your beliefs. Combine the two, and you are sure to step on some toes. But sometimes, we have important things to say, and we have to take the risk that not everyone will be happy with what we say. Will you join me in the discussion?
Next month, I will be releasing an updated version of my 2005 book about separation of church and state in America. The book, with a new title, will be available on Amazon starting on February 28, 2020. I'm still deciding on the cover for the book. Please vote for your favorite in the Comments box.
On June 14, 2004, the Supreme Court overturned a decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which held that the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Separate for a Reason explores the Pledge of Allegiance case and other First Amendment cases which demonstrate the growing tension over the place of religious practices and symbols in public and governmental establishments. A former federal prosecutor and college law teacher, Janet Ruth adds her perspective to an increasingly volatile debate over the separation of church and state.
Combining her extensive law background with her Christian faith, Ruth questions the wisdom of fighting to preserve a Christian nation that is, so often, Christian in name only. She says “it is time for Christians to change their focus from preserving morality in America to spreading the gospel of Christ in America and throughout the world. For it is not ‘through acts of righteousness’ that we are saved, or through moral laws and empty religious ceremonies.”
In Separate for a Reason, Ruth challenges Christians to consider a third side to the Church/State debate, one which places an emphasis on giving our allegiance to God.
We can all use help sometimes, and today I am asking for your help.
I’ve been asked to provide marketing materials to the publisher of my new book about Christian worldviews. I pulled some direct quotes from the book that can be used for marketing, but I have to get my list down to the top ten. Could you please read through these quotes and tell me in the comment section which ones stood out to you? If you were reading these quotes in a description of the book, which ones would make you want to pick up the book and learn more?
It’s the first week of a new year. Several times on social media in the past week, I’ve seen the question posed: What is your word for this year? In other words, what one word describes your goals, hopes, or mindset as you look forward to 2020?
The first thing I thought of when I saw this question was a short phrase – two words instead of one – Dive in! Once I realized that 2020 is a leap year, I changed it to one word: Leap! I’m changing my Facebook cover photo to reflect my new word and posting my word on Instagram today, too.
Why choose leap for my word of the year? It expresses how I feel right now and what I may be doing the rest of the year. I have reached a high-point in my writing career, which is good, but there are no easy paths to get where I need to go next. There’s a chasm at my feet. If I’m going to move on, I’m going to have to leap and hope I make it to the other side.
Writing as a career is not for the faint-of-heart. There’s a lot of rejection involved. There’s a lot of hard work involved. There’s a lot of disheartening news involved – like, if you want to get an agent or editor to accept your work, you need to be reaching at least 5,000 people with your platform (names on your e-mail list, social media contacts, and people who attend your speaking events). I have fewer than 300.
But God has his own way of doing things, and sometimes miracles do happen.
After self-publishing three books, I have found a traditional publisher willing to take a risk on my new fourth book. I first got the news in mid-November and signed a contract by the end of December. I also had a friend recommend one of my self-published books to a company that publishes and creates electronic tools and resources for Bible study. That book will be soon be offered for prepublication orders through their online bookstore.
This is amazing news, but it’s also terrifying. Having books available in bookstores and with online retailers doesn’t mean anything if no one has heard of the books or the author. Publishers do very little marketing for new authors. The authors are expected to find their own readers through social media, book reviews, speaking engagements, and word of mouth. I don’t have those readers yet. I have a chasm at my feet, and it’s going to take a lot to get to the other side – like a huge leap of faith.
Not all leaps are frightening, though. There’s another kind of leap I intend to take this year, as often as I remember to do it. I’m going to leap for joy remembering that I am not alone in this journey. I’ve been called and given a purpose, and God will see me though.
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” Psalm 28:7
Have you chosen a word for 2020? Share it in the Comments section!
My daughter convinced me to go see Spider-Man: Far From Home for a second time. The movie was re-released in theaters last week, this time with four additional minutes of footage which had been deleted from the original movie. The additional four minutes don’t add much to the story, and I can understand why most of it was cut. But they do help us understand how much Peter Parker wanted his summer vacation plans to work out—which, of course, they didn’t.
This is the second time this summer that a blockbuster movie has been re-released in theaters with new scenes added in--Avengers: End Game being the first. It has raised a good deal of talk about the lengths to which movie producers will go to break box-office records and bring in the cash. It raises other questions, too, about what makes for good story-telling.
Each time a movie is released on DVD or re-released in theaters or on TV with previously deleted scenes added back in, people will ask why those scenes were cut in the first place or what was the point of adding them back in. In fact, the whole process of movie-making is a question of what scenes to put in and what to leave out. Decisions are made about how much information is needed and what is irrelevant, what action moves the story forward and what slows it down, what dialogue engages the audience and what leaves them feeling bored.
A good movie provides just the right amount of information, action, and emotion. The finished product flows effortlessly from scene to scene, drawing the audience deeper into the story until it reaches an exciting and satisfying end. We don’t see the painstaking work involved in writing the script, casting actors, shooting scenes, adding special effects, and making final edits. We will never know about the thousand difficult decisions someone made to do this, don’t do that, add this, and delete that. We just see the end result—and possibly a few minutes more of deleted scenes added back in for a re-release.
Unlike a book or a TV series, a movie has to do all its story-telling in a short amount of time. (The three-hour, one-minute Avengers: Endgame was pushing the limit for most people.) The decisions about what to put in and what to leave out become much more important.
It’s an interesting metaphor for life.
The Bible reminds us that human life is short. Our lives on earth are like “grass [that] withers and the flowers [that] fall” (Isaiah 40:6–8) and like a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). Paul the Apostle tells us, “The time is short…. Do not be engrossed in the things of the world, for this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29, 31 paraphrased). In other words, the story of our lives will end—and sooner than we would like to think.
Everyday we make decisions about what to do, what thoughts to dwell on, who to talk to, and how to fill our time. Each decision to add something into our day is a decision to leave other things out. We should remember Paul’s warning that “the time is short” and be intentional about how we spend each day.
That doesn’t have to be as stressful as it sounds. The good news for Christians is that each of our personal stories is part of a greater story being directed by an all-knowing, all-powerful, master story-teller. We are promised that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).
So, use your time well today. Think intentionally about what is a good use of your time and what isn’t. Listen to the director, and trust that the amazing story he wants to tell through your life is worth all the effort.
Last week I enjoyed a two-movie weekend. Sometimes, it’s hard to choose between new releases, so (as my daughter likes to quote from a taco commercial), “por que no los dos?”
Blinded By the Light (2019) is a comedy/drama based on a true story. Javed Khan is a young adult living with his Pakistani family in a small industrial town in England in 1987. He’s been journaling and writing poems for years, and he dreams of being a writer, but his family’s traditions and financial woes make his dream seem impossible.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2019) is a comedy based on a book. Bernadette Fox is a grown woman living with her husband and daughter in modern-day Seattle. She walked away from a brilliant career as an award-winning architect to raise her daughter and to hide from past disappointments, until her life starts unraveling at the seams.
It was strange seeing these two movies almost back to back. Javed and Bernadette had almost nothing in common. They differed in race, gender, nationality, age, financial security, interests, and life experience. Yet they had something very important in common. The dream Javed was looking forward to with longing was the same dream Bernadette was looking back on with regret. They both desperately, deeply wanted to create something.
Thankfully, both Javed and Bernadette found the inspiration and motivation they needed to give life to their creative dreams. Both movies end happily with the anticipation of great things to come. And if their happy endings inspire others to follow their creative dreams, that’s even better!
Now, I’m not one of those people who encourages everyone to follow their dreams. Many times, our dreams are selfish, greedy, and lazy. Achieving those dreams helps no one but ourselves. Sometimes, we wish for success in things which are far beyond our abilities, like being a best-selling author, a Broadway star, or a million-dollar athlete. Even if our ultimate plan is to benefit others with our success, the pursuit of success itself can be a selfish thing if it means we have no time for family, friends, or the needs of our communities.
But there are other types of dreams which are planted inside us like vines. They tend to stay there, even if we ignore them or try to pull them out. They long for a little sun and a little fertilizer so they can stretch and grow, putting out new shoots and producing fruit.
Some people are born to be writers, or artists, or composers, or builders. We are called to create, because, in creating, we call attention to our own Creator.
Writers give voice to thoughts and ideas and help us understand life at a deeper level. Artists open our eyes to the beauty of the world but also its present darkness. Musicians stir our emotions, reminding us of the eternal soul within. Architects, designers, inventors, and builders push us to the edge of what is possible to see that there is still more “possible” just beyond us.
These are gifts from God. He gives a little creative spirit to some and a great deal to others. He blesses some with great success while others are hardly noticed. We don’t get to choose the gift, and we won’t know where it will take us if we pursue it. But if that vine is wriggling and growing inside you, demanding some time in the sun—find your inspiration, find your motivation, and run after that dream. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
Yesterday, July 31, much of the book-reading world celebrated the birthday of Harry Potter. The day of Harry’s birth was revealed in the first of seven books about the boy wizard. For lovers of the series, the last day of July became a day to celebrate the books and their main character.
Although I’m a big fan of the Harry Potter series, I didn’t do anything special to celebrate yesterday. But today, I couldn’t help thinking of Harry and his fictitious friends. I had three checks I needed to put in the mail. That meant three envelopes needed to be addressed, three return address labels needed to be added to one corner, and three stamps needed to be added to another corner. I was putting the stamps on when Harry popped into my head and I smiled.
In the fourth book of the series, Harry’s uncle receives a letter from the mother of his schoolmate, Ron. Not used to sending mail the “normal” way, she concludes the letter with a P.S.: “I do hope we’ve put enough stamps on.”
Let’s just say, the thoroughly-nonmagical Mr. Dursley was not amused.
There are many instances in the Harry Potter books of wizards and witches who have grown up in all-magic families not knowing how to navigate the non-magic (or muggle) world. They prefer the old customs of wearing long robes and capes and are much more likely to get around by broomstick or magical fires than by car or train. When they are forced to be seen in public, they look out of place—or, as Mr. Dursley would say it, like weirdoes.
Like the magical folk in the Harry Potter series, Christians can also feel out of place in the greater world around them. If we believe the things the Bible teaches, we may see the world very differently than our non-Christian neighbors. Some Christians are more comfortable with older customs such as traditional families, respect for leaders, and valuing hard work. They might be overwhelmed by modern technology and distressed by modern values. The impulse to hide away and associate only with other Christians can be strong.
Other Christians go to great lengths to look just like everyone around them. They hide in plain sight, never letting anyone know what makes them special.
We need to fight that impulse to hide!
The magical folk in the Harry Potter series are required by law to hide their magic from the world. Christians, on the other hand, are required by Jesus’ command to get out there and shine for all the world to see.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)
Today, I challenge you to celebrate what makes you different. Don’t be afraid to be noticed. Get out there and let your light shine!
Last weekend, my family went to see the new version of Disney’s The Lion King. The movie was made as part of Disney’s campaign of remaking live versions of classic animated movies. However, this movie—starring a cast of lions, hyenas, a warthog, and a meercat—contains no live shots of animals and, apparently, only one live shot of scenery.
So what makes this version new? The original film, released in 1994, employed mostly traditional hand-drawn animation. It looks like a well-made cartoon. The 2019 remake uses very realistic computer-generated animation and “virtual-production techniques” that include filming the voice actors acting out their parts and then recreating their facial expressions on the animated animals. Much of the animation looks impressively real, as if birds are actually flying through the air, grass is actually blowing in a breeze, and lions and hyenas are actually talking to each other.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you can watch the trailer here.
The art of animation has come a long way since Walt Disney made his first animated short film in 1928. The word animate means “possessing or characterized by life; alive; full of life.” To animate means “to give life to.” 
The Bible also equates life with breath. In Genesis 2:7, “the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God animated humans with his own breath.
Yet, there is more than one type of life described in the Bible. Humans were given life when God formed the first humans from the dust of the ground. Yet when Jesus came, he offered a new kind of life, one that stretches into eternity: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24). “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
Life changes with Jesus. What came before is so different, it’s as if we weren’t alive at all. It’s like the difference between a virtual-reality computer generated film and a hand-painted animated film. The computer generated film has more color, more depth, more feeling, more detail, more…life!
But just like a computer generated film is still just an imitation of real life, there is also something greater in store for us than the Jesus-filled life we lead now. When we have outgrown the physical bodies we live in now, God has something even better waiting for us.
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
Our new lives will be even more real than anything we have experienced before. There will be more color, more depth, more feeling, more detail, more…life! It will be a life without tears or pain or death (Revelation 21:4).
Praise God today for the physical life he gave you, the new life you have in Jesus, and the amazing life you will have for eternity. What amazing gifts these are!
Lion photo by Luke Tanis on Unsplash
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What is my mission as an author? The goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.