Friday, August 25, 2017

We will thrive when




We live in strange times.  Though I imagine every generation thinks theirs is special, ours seems unique.  With all that’s going on these days, what could be missing?

Not long ago scientists discovered a tiny lizard, a chameleon, the size of an ant.  I can now browse the internet and “cast” a movie from my phone straight to my television, without using any wires.  Certain laws protect the speech of hate-mongers, but as we recently observed, instead of confronting racism our culture politicizes it without really improving the situation.  Meanwhile, across the pacific ocean there’s a dictator ruling a slim peninsula of land who is threatening our nation with nuclear destruction, but no one here seems to have a good way to handle him.  And earlier this week, millions of “eclipse tourists” traveled to watch the sun disappear in the middle of the day while a handful of others predicted these astronomical events were ushering in the Apocalypse.  

What’s going on?  With all of our advances and discoveries, life should be improving both in quality and satisfaction -- instead it seems like while we have more opportunities, we express less optimism.  We have so much potential, yet we seem fearful of the future.  

Perhaps too many people are living for “today” with no thought for tomorrow.   We live in the present, which in a sense is healthy, but being obsessed with the present isn’t.  Lately, we’ve attempted to rewrite our history in many circles while we’ve forgotten about our future in others.  

With all of the uncertainty that accompanies our global turmoil and the craziness that captures our nation as well, how are we supposed to move forward and keep our heads on straight?  It comes down to perspective.  It rests in being firmly rooted.  It depends on being anchored to something solid.    

I know you’re expecting me to say something about how we sharpen and perfect our perspective by focusing more on God.  While that’s true, the context in which God most often nurtures our lives is through family.   It’s not impossible, but it can be harder to stay devoted to God when we are disconnected from our families.  

Spiritually speaking, there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between how we understand/experience God and how we function as a family.  Honor your father and mother is in the same paragraph as don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.  God never said He hated divorced people, but He said He hated divorce because of its negative impact on the spiritual development of children (see Malachi 2:13-16).

Without being too simplistic, our fractured family structure is probably to blame for many if not most of our current woes.  Our culture experiences too much crime and when we’re not dealing with crime, it struggles with welfare concerns; these are easily traced to a breakdown in the home.  

There’s probably nothing more detrimental to our development than an absentee-father.  We can’t blame this poor estate of the modern family on a lack of education, we have more access to learning than at any other time in human history.  So is the church to blame?  

We are, by and large, products of our families.  Family can be messy, they can embarrass us, they can drain us, and they can wound us like no one else can.  Family also can be one of the greatest blessings this life has to offer.  

When was the last time you went to a family reunion?  When was the last time you enjoyed any inter-generational activity with family?  A meal with family members of different ages, or even a game night?  Family reminds us of where we have come from, what’s truly important today, and why our future is so special it deserves to be protected.

Does this mean that if I have the perfect family, my life will be perfect?  No.  But common sense tells us when we are more secure in our home we are more confident out in the world around us.  Perhaps, the best gift you can give your children might not be a good college education or a new car, it just might be the example you set for them on how you treat each other.   

If you have a healthy family, thank the good Lord above regularly and take some time to share your love and experience with those less fortunate.  If your family isn’t all it could be, pray for your family and purposefully spend more time with godly families who can help yours grow.  Families only thrive when family is a priority.  


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

An open letter to people who hide their hatred behind the name of Jesus





I’m writing an “open letter” here, to you within a certain slice of the Christian population.  Dear rule-keepers, sticklers, and those who freely point out the perceived faults in the rest of us, please stop.  
Please stop spewing hatred and strife in the name of Jesus.  

Whether you know it or not, you are doing more harm than good.  Your legalistic attitudes and your judgmental behaviors, which you probably think are championing the Truth, are not serving God faithfully.  The reality is, you’ve joined those who “bind loads you can’t carry and you close the doors to those who would enter the kingdom.”  

My question to you is, when was the last time you changed your opinion on anything?  If you haven’t, then you aren’t growing or maturing.  If you have, then how do you deal with the fallout of your disagreements with those you challenged in the past, but now you see “it” differently?

Part of the damage you inflict is from your hateful/bombastic language and your use of vitriolic phrases, and too many people begin to think all believers have your attitude.  Then they are driven even further from the Kingdom, becoming doubly lost and this chastising approach of your is the polar-opposite of the Great Commission.  You are responsible for creating more atheists than Darwin.  
You see, instead of attracting people to Jesus, your legalism repels everyone else, making it nearly impossible for the other Christians to reach the people you’ve wounded along the way.  In case you didn’t know, judging people or shaming them embitters them -- it doesn’t endear them to you.  
Secluding or cocooning ourselves from the world, and then hammering everyone else who disagrees with our theological perspectives, ruins any influence we could’ve had for the Kingdom.  Not to mention, this is terrible PR for Jesus.  

We don’t have a Biblical precedent to be mean-spirited or hateful.  So, you set yourself apart from the world and judge it.  You may even love to quote John 3:16, but you’ve obviously overlooked John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  Enough with the condemnation.  

Sadly, most everything which judgmental and legalistic Christians argue and debate over fall under “gray” areas.  From meeting times to the color of the carpet to the name over the door, to consuming alcohol and politics, from women’s roles to which translation of Bible is authorized, to the “style” of worship.  Ugh.  Why isn’t Jesus enough for you?

I’ve seen this damage firsthand, having been on the receiving end of condemnation drummed up by Christian witch hunts, and I’ve watched as friends wither, and I’ve cringed as loved ones suffer from the hands of Bible-carrying hatemongers.  I’ve seen the sincere and the seeker driven away, and it’s hard to swallow.  

When you label others as liberal or you think your theology is superior to everyone else’s, you’ve not said anything about others, you’ve only revealed more about yourself.   Your “stance” says more about yourself than it does others.  The end results of your animosity towards everyone who disagrees with your narrow perspectives are simply devastating.  People outside the faith avoid “church” and those within the fold are driven away by your actions.  And as people trickle away from the church, they lump all Christians into the same camp: Hateful, judgmental ogres.  This must end, quickly.

There’s no harm in holding different opinions on many doctrines, but how we articulate our differences and how we view/treat others makes all the difference in the world.  Remember, Jesus said all men would know we were His disciples by our love for one another, He didn’t say people would know we were His by being correct about everything or by our doctrinal accurateness...    

My guess is, if you prefer to judge or shame others, you probably suffer from some deep-seated insecurities.  People hide behind self-righteousness because it quiets their fears that they haven’t quite measured up or they aren’t good enough.  

Let me close this open letter with this thought: The very people who instigated the death of Jesus were religious to the core.  They believed they were in the right, but they were dead wrong.    


Friday, July 7, 2017

Are Christians blocking "church growth"





How do you feel about the lack of enthusiasm most people seem to display when it comes to church?  Many Christians lament the fact that, overall, North American church attendance has been steadily dwindling for years.  Some church-goers blame this decline on our decadent/depraved culture, others blame technology and our resulting lowered attention spans (read: church is boring), and others fall back on the Bible passage that says in the end-times, things will go from bad to worse.  

But, could we as believers be to the ones to blame for the universal lack of the church's growth? Perhaps where we've traditionally focused our attention has been detrimental to the Kingdom's growth.  So much of our "in-house" arguing/disagreements on the part of modern-day believers has relatively little to do with what Jesus taught about, or what lost people focus on.

Part of maturing spiritually is growing in the ability to reflect on our transformation and to see areas where we need to submit even more to the Spirit's leading.  It's my opinion that far too many of us waste time and energy on fruitless pursuits which will not win people to Christ, in fact I'd go as far as to say our corporate passions have pushed people away.

For starters, too many believers politicize church.  Regardless of your political affiliation, folks on both sides have merged politics and faith.  And, if you don't vote their way, you aren't voting for God's candidate.  An honest survey of the Bible will quickly reveal that there weren't many Godly leaders and most of the governments listed in the Bible were not led by believers.

How does our unhealthy obsession on politics damage our testimony?  Think about the strife & separation it's causing amongst believers, and then step back and think how outsiders view our insane divisiveness.   We have to stop allowing our political views from spilling over into our churches, and we need to quit this fantasy that we know is best for the world when it comes to the realm of government.  We can't even "govern" our congregations very well, how could we be so arrogant to think we can influence a less important organization like a temporary earthly government?   

The next area we might be faltering in is our immature attachment to church-property.  If you can’t imagine church without the church building, then we should stop and think.  If your faith, energy, and time are consumed by a church building and your rituals are constructed around programs, you might suffer from a case of religious pietism.

The question becomes then: Are you more in love with your religion than He Who reigns -- have you become more attached to the form of your religion than He Who forms us?

But, one might think, so much good happens within this structure.  Is it helpful, or is it a crutch we've become overly dependent on.  The age old church battle over change is a joke.  We argue over the color of the carpet while lost souls perish.  We’re acting like the staff on the sinking Titanic, rearranging the deck furniture while the lifeboats remained empty.  

If you can't imagine practicing the Christian faith apart from programs and parking lots or if the building dictates the majority of your decisions, there might be a problem.  I know these are unpopular opinions I'm sharing, but how much longer can we continue down this path before we realize what we are doing is counterproductive?  

But Craig, you are wrong! you may say. There are several churches with fabulous foyers and positive programs that are growing!  Actually, what we are doing in Christianity is shuffling the deck.  We've simply moved one herd from one location over into another pen, but the flock isn't expanding.  What's happening? People leave one church and go to another, without any net gain for the Kingdom.  Sure, maybe we are retaining Christians in the Kingdom, though that's doubtful, but are we reaching really lost people?  Nope, not really, not like we should be.  

What we win people with is what win them to.  In other words, what we try to attract people with is what they become.  If we win over their hearts with God's love and grace, then we help them to attach to Jesus.  If we win people over with programs, rituals, and stained glass, then we have lost our purpose and we have missed the mark because their loyalty will last only as long as the facade we've won them to does.

The church I read about in the New Testament never got involved in politics, they didn't own church buildings -- instead they focused on being disciples sharing the story of the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus.  They were Spirit led people who believed the return of Christ was eminent.  And somehow, all of that was attractive to a debased culture that deified their Emperor.  


Saturday, June 10, 2017

When the toilet paper faces the wrong way, get mad, or...




The age-old argument about which way a roll of toilet paper faces is a great metaphor for life.  A lot of people sit on their rear ends and gripe about circumstances they could change, if they weren't so busy complaining about what everyone else does wrong.

Also, if you are complaining about which way the TP is facing, then obviously you aren't changing too many rolls yourself.  It's ironic that the people who complain the loudest  in life are usually the most passive.

And, just like many circumstance in life, if you don't like which way the TP is facing, you don't need permission to fix it.  People act like they need permission to change or make changes for the better, and until that mindset changes, TP is the least of your problems.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Have we normalized Suicide & will "13 Reasons why" prevent or promote more teen-suicides?





Short of Jesus Christ’s return, each of us will die.  That alone is a sobering thought, but to think some people will take their own life is incomprehensible for most.  If you’ve ever lost a loved one to suicide, I’m truly sorry and you have my deepest condolences.  

Death is inevitable and we wonder why anyone would want to hurry the process along, especially since most people spend their entire lives trying to avoid death/prolong their lives.  Perhaps this basic “desire to thrive” is why suicide is so hard to understand.

Why do people take their own lives?  The reasons are as unique as the people who end their lives, but one reason seems common to all, they didn’t see any other solution for the pain or problem they faced.  I don’t know of anything more heartbreaking than the recent story that’s still making news of an 8 year old boy in Cincinnati, Gabriel Taye, who hung himself back in January after being bullied.  

Northeast Tennessee isn’t immune to suicide.  Recently, our region has seen a spike in the number of teen suicides.  People are concerned about what some see as an encouragement to take one’s life, allegedly from watching a Netflix series, a series that is already going into its second season.  If you haven’t seen the series or heard of it, I’m fairly confident all of the younger people in your life have.  

The Netflix series that’s putting the spotlight on this taboo topic is “13 Reasons.”  With all of the hype surrounding this series, I decided to watch “13 Reasons” for myself to draw my own conclusions.  My concern, going into watching the show, was that the series would romanticize suicide.  In my opinion, “13 Reasons” is raw, explicit, and at times disturbing, yet it’s well produced and both the script and acting are believable.  And, after watching the entire first season, I do not think at all that “13 Reasons” promotes or glamorizes suicide in the least bit.  

This is not to say the show is for everyone.  “13 Reasons” is really well done and the story works, but if you or a loved one were contemplating suicide I don’t know if the show would be the healthiest thing to watch.  Even though the show isn’t pro-suicide, the mere visual example might possibly normalize the process in the minds of someone struggling with it (There is a graphic suicide scene in an episode).

Also, there are several real-life topics, which teens face, that are covered in the series besides suicide.  Some of the content will seem extremely inappropriate, like for example the gratuitous use of foul language in every episode.  Or other subjects which are sprinkled through the series that will simply make you feel uncomfortable viewing, such as teen sex/rape, teen drinking, bullying, drug use, mean people conspiring in cliques, and a disconnect between the everyday lives of teens and adults.

Still, if suicide isn’t a personal struggle and if you have young people in your life or if you are an educator or in youth ministry, you might consider setting aside your “viewing standards” for the sake of being in touch with the lives of the young people for whom you care about, who by the way are already watching and discussing this series.  By the way: This show is also a valuable tool for gaining insights into contemporary youth culture.  

If you are completely unfamiliar with the show, the plot of “13 Reasons” is built around an audio recording from a young girl who takes her life before the first episode, and the fallout in the aftermath of her suicide.  She recorded the cassettes, listing her thirteen reasons why she ended her life prematurely, and the cassettes are to be listened to by the people who contributed, in one way or another, to her decision.  The “real-time” plotline of each episode is overlapped with flashbacks to when the young girl was still alive, weaving “present time” with the narration of the young girl chronicling her high school career and the tragedies she faced that ultimately led to her choice to commit suicide -- in one of the episodes they do show her slitting her wrists in a bathtub.




Between mainstream media and music and movies, suicide seems more and more “normal” and it is a ranking cause of death for young Americans.  The top three causes of death among teens are, #1. Motor vehicle accidents, #2. Homicide, and #3. Suicide.  The CDC says annually in America there are 14 suicides for children 10 and under, and about 1,400 suicides for children 11-18 years of age.  And, these numbers are increasing.  

These numbers do not reflect the multitudes of failed attempts either (there are approximately 575,000 teen suicide attempts annually).  Neither do these statistics cover the many college students who end their lives as they consider the overwhelming challenges they’ll face after college.  If you increase the age group past 18, up to to 24 years of age, the suicide rates jump to 4,600 a year (total for 11-24 yrs of age).  Facing too many pressures, insecurities, uncertainties, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles to success, while it’s not acceptable or excusable it is clear more and more young people seek suicide as a way out.  

Even without a fictional show like “13 Reasons,” young people are exposed to other examples, there are celebrities who frequently make the national news after taking their lives, there are relatives who have taken their lives, and chances are the young people in your life have known someone who has taken their own life.  Silence, regarding this topic, on the part of adults isn't a viable method to tackle this topic.  

You may be uncomfortable discussing suicide, both its prevention or results, but there are a lot young people talking about it.  It seems like pop-culture has a way of bringing fringe topics into the mainstream, and this is exactly what “13 Reasons” is doing, it’s getting people talking.  Young people probably need mature adults to guide the conversation....

I’m not able to provide solutions or answers to suicide in this post -- I’m sorry if this disappoints you.  I am hopeful less people will bury their heads in the sand and more adults will engage our culture and our young people as they navigate the tumultuous, confusing, and often heartbreaking years of high school.  Ignoring this problem won’t make it go away.  


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Why the movie Alien Covenant matters



Science fiction is rarely about Science or mere fiction.  Not to say the technology or gadgetry in sci-fi is supposed to be authentic or workable or that the stories are meant to be taken literal, but, the underlying themes woven within many Sci-fi plots are often telling.  Alien Covenant follows seamlessly in the path of Prometheus , both of which are great movies.  Again, the next plot line in the series raises great questions about creation-creators, our place in the universe, and what are our origins.

What I like about these particular movies is the space given to both the idea of Faith and to Science.  I don't think reason, logic, or science are enemies to faith in the supernatural, and in fact I think we learn much more about the supernatural and its possibilities through science than we do without exploring science.   Though Prometheus was more faith-friendly and treated the faith-character with more respect than Covenant does, there is still room given to explore both ideas of having faith and merely trusting in science.

Perhaps Science can tell us the "how's" to much of creation, but it science can't pretend to tell us the "why's" or what the end results are going to be.  Foundational-purpose and meaning aren't tested in a lab or deciphered with an equation.

What Alien Covenant adds to the "Alien" project, is the unpredictable element of AI, Artificial Intelligence.  Not that a "synthetic" human is new to the movie series, but the new question which is raised loud & clear is, Can we trust our own creation, what will the future of AI be?  That is the big question of the Alien series, and it's probably not just for Sci-fi anymore.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Why would anyone want to "Make the world a better place"




Can we really make the world a better place, why do we think can, and what makes us think we should even try to make the world better?  Most graduations this month will include some young, bright-eyed rising-star who will boldly stand behind a podium emblazoned with their school’s seal, and with great passion, with an emotion filled plea, they will say what borders upon a cliché, “It’s up to our generation to go out from here today, and make the world a better place tomorrow...” 

Certainly, this desire to make the world a better place isn’t only for young.  I think many politicians (at least maybe early on in their careers) share these ambitions too.  Most people who are in a serving or caring industry certainly seem to want to make the world better for those they are caring for.  

But still, is it possible to make this world better?  Why do we think we can improve the world?

There’s a problem with many of our improvements, they usually are shortsighted, and, they create some collateral damage along the way.  When we tinker in one area, we usually disrupt another.  Often times, our mistakes are revealed only by those who follow us in a later generation, and their solutions to resolve our problems, well, they establish yet another set of difficulties for those who will follow them.

It’s kind of like solving problems with the H-Bomb, which was supposed to peacefully end World War 2, but look at what nuclear armament has done to us in the years since.  Is the world safer or more peaceful since the advent of nuclear weapons?

It’s not that we are inherently evil or bent on making mistakes, but we seem to perpetually generate more and more chaos as time goes on.  Progress, whatever that may look like in your eyes, is a moving target, and we seem to miss the target more than we hit it.

It’s one thing to want to make the world a better place, it’s another to realize or ignore our limitations.  Perhaps, our inability to recognize we are imperfect is hindering our path forward.  Imperfect people will hardly be able to create perfection, or achieve some sort of Utopia, yet, most public figures promise “results” are within reach.

I want to be optimistic and I want to see pain alleviated, poverty stricken down, hunger eradicated, health improved, and peace between all people to be reached.  Have you noticed though, with every effort and with each generation, we are left with more problems and greater strife?  

I think there’s a reason we long for a better world.  I think instinctively we all, religious, believers, atheists, and disbelievers alike, I think we know without being told we come from Eden.  I think it’s hardwired in our inner beings to know we weren’t created for this present world which is filled with hatred, evil, and death.  Just like no one has to tell the Monarch butterfly to migrate, no one has to tell us to search for a Promised Land.  

So what gets in the way of us reaching perfection?  We have personal agendas, we’re envious, we hold grudges, we have pride issues, we have a hard time cooperating with others, we are judgmental, suspicious, and we think we are smarter than we are.  But beyond that, we are in a fallen world that is infested with evil, we are in a realm that is under the sway of and held captive by the demonic.  As John writes in I JN 5:19, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”

We can’t afford to give up, yet we are facing impossible odds to overcome.  And on top of this, Scriptures seem to allude to the idea that things will go from bad to worse as time goes on.   So what should we do?  Hunker down and circle the wagons till the Cavalry rescues us?  Seclude ourselves from the world and hide in cloistered monasteries?  

I think we would be better served acknowledging where the real battle lies, as in what is revealed in Eph 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  And, we’d be better served not trying to face this spiritual battle on our own strength or by our own methods.  

Will this world be a better place someday?  Maybe not until Christ returns.  Can we create a little heaven here on earth in the meantime?  Jesus didn’t instruct us to riot, boycott, protest or fight, or debate everyone on Facebook... instead, He indicated we ought to pray something like, “Your will be done, your Kingdom come, on earth as it is...” and He said something about treating others as we’d like to be treated, and, He said to love our neighbors just like we love ourselves.  I’d say starting along these lines should give us a fighting chance.