A Test of Character

As we move beyond the heat of a divisive political contest in which we had two presidential candidates who were extremely disliked and not trusted by most people, with opposite halves of the citizens having to opt for one of the candidates, we now find the character of our nation being tested. Prior to the election, it was the characters of Clinton and Trump that were in the spotlight. Now it is the character of the USA that the world is watching. Will we prove to be a nation of civility and sensibility, or will we show ourselves to be the very things we disliked about the two candidates?

People may seem to be very interested in what the candidates say, but we forget that the soul of our nation is revealed more by what we say about them and how we say it. Moral mudslinging and cruel caricatures badly sullied the campaigning and diminished respect for the office of president.

Politics is a highly polished art form which is waged like battle; offensive verbal volleys are flung at enemies with the expectation that a discredited foe is a defeated foe. In days past, however, the one discredited in the public eye was the mudslinger. In today’s “new dark ages” (Alasdair MacIntyre’s phrase) civility and sensibility have given way to smearing and slinging. And all too often politically active Christians contribute to the nasty noises, thereby undermining our credibility as thinkers and as followers of Christ. We may think we know how Jesus would have voted and justify our triumphalism or our vindictiveness accordingly, but, really, do we really have the arrogance to assume we know the mind or purposes of the Almighty?

In the summer of 1995 the people of the United States were gripped by the O. J. Simpson trial. When the jury found him not guilty, our nation was polarized by the different responses of whites and blacks. On the college campus where I served, the responses were rather typical. Black students were greatly pleased and celebrated the verdict, while white students were shocked and dismayed. Sensing that this could cause a very unfortunate polarization on campus, I spoke to the students the next day in chapel, reminding them that only God and O. J. Simpson knew whether or not he committed the murders. Then I exhorted them to rejoice with those who were rejoicing, like Simpson’s God-fearing mother, and to weep with those who were weeping, like the parents of the Simpson’s wife.

The main point here is that followers of Christ are to seek first Christ’s kingdom, which has a platform of rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, according to Romans l2:15, which goes on to admonish us to “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind,” and “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Some people are truly fearful of what President Trump will do to their civil liberties. Others are relieved that he will halt the erosion of conservative values. As Christians, I believe we have a pastoral mandate to love and care for all our neighbors. Remember, there is another option besides Democratic and Republican; it’s called the Kingdom of God, ruled by One whose perfections we are called to emulate.

Pillar College Scores, Olympic Coach to Head New Team

Earlier this year Pillar College applied for membership to the United States Collegiate Table Tennis Association (USCTTA) to compete regionally with schools such as University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers. We are both excited and grateful to unofficially announce that reigning US Olympic Head Coach Lily Yip will be installed as the new head coach for the Pillar College Panthers’ Table Tennis Team. Coach Yip, a two-time Olympian and Pam American Gold Medalist, will be officially introduced at a press conference to be held Tuesday, December 6, 2016, at the Somerset Campus.

Coach Yip led the US Table Tennis Team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and is a four-time US National Coach of the Year (2014, 2013, 2010 & 2004). According to TeamUSA.org, Coach Yip was inducted into the USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame in December 2004 and owns the nationally top-ranked Lily Yip Table Tennis Center in Dunellen, NJ.

Table Tennis has more participants than any other sport in the world! So, it didn’t take much to convince us that this was the way to go. This adds, even more, value to our robust international student program allowing us the opportunity to impact more and more students each year. Of course, we thank the Almighty first, but there were many that supported this work to launch Pillar’s first ever intercollegiate athletic program, and I would be remiss not to acknowledge the Vice President of Student Life Linda Schmitt, Assistant Coach Jim Hanlon, and Athletic Coordinator Bob Sanislo for their contributions in bringing this to fruition.

Coach Yip and I met briefly in Newark before my trip to Asia, and I asked her what her plans were for the Pillar College Panthers Table Tennis Team. She stated, “we are going to make this a top-ranked team nationally, and will do so by keeping our students’ focused on their academics as well.” I am looking forward to officially welcoming Coach Yip at our December 6th press conference in Somerset, and hope you can join us at 10:00 am.

Become Radicalized

“How do these young people become radicalized?” That’s the question that interests and confuses journalists, newscasters, and others here in the United States. We are flummoxed by native-born Americans who become ardent Islamic jihadists. The atrocities they and other Muslim extremists commit nearly every week in many parts of the world are too numerous to recount and too painful to relive. Hopefully, we will never become so numb and desensitized that it becomes part of the culture we just expect and accept.

But the question begs for an answer, much as immediately after 9/11 when so many asked, “Why do they hate us?” referring to the extremist Muslims who skyjacked four jets and used them as torpedoes to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Asking how American youth become radicalized jihadists might not really be a question of HOW, but WHY. Why would free-born youth growing up in one of the most affluent nations on earth savagely attack people they don’t know and expose themselves to death? No one can know the thoughts or motives of another, but such acts usually stem from excessive anger, or zealous commitment to an ideology that teaches the terrorists that what they are doing is good and right. They may be obeying a person or a principle that has authority in their lives. In that way, Islam and Christianity have much in common. As one Christian philosopher put it, “Both Islam and Christianity were spread by the sword, but the swords were pointing in opposite directions!”

Fancying myself to be on the zealous side of making disciples for Jesus Christ, I ask, “How can we radicalize young (and older) Christians to that level of commitment?” Not to commit violence but to obey the radical call of Jesus to evangelize and make disciples of all people. What will motivate this generation to such radical love, even for enemies, that they would be willing to lay down their lives, or at least their I-phones, to share the good news of salvation?

We can rule out anger as a driver for radical Christian living. Angry Christians, and there are a lot of them, do not serve the kingdom of God. Rather, they are an embarrassment to us, much as moderate Muslims say about the jihadists. So, that leaves us with the same motivation that drove the earliest followers of Jesus. Radical Christian obedience must come from radical love for Jesus. Nothing short of a very personal, devoted love will spark the depth of commitment that follows Christ’s call to die to ourselves.

What Jesus told his disciples is the step that most Christians have not yet taken — full surrender, full submission. It is begun by a crisis experience, a prayer of consecration or dedication that you no longer want to live for yourself, but you want to live for Christ, and you ask him to be your total Lord. You give him the right to radicalize you.

That prayer puts you on the path of becoming a righteous radical. Twelve men and a handful of women were a small seed planted in the Roman Empire. That Empire lasted a few hundred years. The small seed that died has grown into a mighty global kingdom, a kingdom that will reign forever. How did they do it? With open warfare.

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

And what is God’s mighty weapon? For the early church it was love. Radical, huh!