Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Why does enforcing/not enforcing the borders anger people?

I don't know anyone who has "all" the answers for how to handle our immigration situation, at least answers that match up with how they function in everyday life.  But if you want to impress me and convince me that you are serious about open boarders, start leaving your front door unlocked at night.  That would get my attention.

Until you teach your kids to leave the keys in the car, and until you give away your pin numbers and passwords, you can't authentically say you believe in open boarders.  That's okay, because most of us are inconsistent.

What you can say is, you believe in some open boarders, just not the ones that personally impact you too much.  The vast majority of the people whining about the boarders, live elsewhere.  This isn't to say immigration remains an issue only at the boarder.  Still, this debate seems like the latest hip bandwagon to jump on.

I don't remember any of the people who are presently criticizing how our government is dealing with our boarders, opening their homes to immigrants to live there for free until they can afford reasonable housing, or volunteering to teach an ESL class, or simply cooking a meal for a refugee family in need.  It's easy to gripe and moan about how bad we are in America, how terrible our president is, how we are repeating the Japanese Concentration camps all over again, while offering only one "solution" which is to just open the borders.  Again, please dismantle your locks and open all of your windows too.

I have several friends from south of the boarder, people who I deeply respect.  Some of the hardest working, morally-balanced, family-centered, good people I know speak Spanish as their native tongue.  Many of these folks followed a process that led to citizenship.  You should ask some of them what they think about this situation and how they feel about the folks who don't try to follow the rules.

But what about the families that are being ripped apart?  Many voices are crying out about justice and mercy, and fairness.  I get that, we all want what's fair.  But what's fair about millions of people who disregard the rules that have kept society together and civilization whole for thousands of years, knowingly putting their children in harms way when they chose to break the law?  Borders that aren't enforced, aren't borders.

Please, someone, anyone, please tell me why sanctuary cities lock up City Hall at night?  Why does the Mayor of a sanctuary city lock his office when he's out?  Why do they lock the janitor's closet?

Again, if you say let's jettison our borders, please feel free to take the front door off of your house.  Please don't protect any of your personal property if you think an open boarder or blind-amnesty is the solution to our present crisis.   It's our inconsistencies that have us upset, angry, and mad at each other. There are plenty of hypocrites on both sides of the fence on this issue, don't add to that list. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

What happens when you wait on the past to return

I’m sure you’ve been here too, so try to guess where I am. When I walked in the room I saw a large welcoming fireplace of to my left. On one wall, there’s a set of wooden golf clubs hung next to an old accordion with yellowed keys. The are sepia colored portraits scattered around the room. Most of the memorabilia hanging on these walls are like the metal advertising signs too, they are from a generation or two ago and refer to items which are no longer manufactured or sold. I see an old crosscut saw near an old washboard, all next to old vinyl albums recorded many years ago by artists who are long gone. I really like the tin potato chip container; I can remember those from my childhood. I take all of this in before the waitress even asks for my breakfast order.

We don’t live in Mayberry, Floyd isn’t our barber, and sadly, the world isn’t like Cracker Barrel. There’s nothing wrong with watching Andy Griffith or with sitting down to eat while you’re surrounded by old Seed signs and oil cans. Nostalgia is one of the most powerful emotional experiences known to us, so beware of its appeal.

The dangers of living in the past are legion. The old days we are so fond to remember, well they probably aren’t as well polished as we tend to think. And, even though we know we can’t go back in time, you might not know that walking into some of our sanctuaries. I’m not referring to our architecture as much as our nomenclature and methods.

The Gospel is eternal, but how we deliver it and how we meet each generation isn’t. The crippling shackles of legalism constricts us into a certain form, and soon that form becomes more important than the function. The results? Well, just like in biology, that which never changes dies.

Raising an awareness of the sway the past holds over our churches can be costly. For example, I knew a preacher back in the Midwest who wanted to demonstrate to his congregation they were “stuck in their ways.” One Sunday morning, to make his point, before communion, he switched the purple Welch's grape juice to white grape juice. Before anyone in that congregation ate their fried chicken that day, the Elders let him know it was time for a change in the pulpit and sent him packing.

Part of the “problem” people had with Jesus was His style. His content made people uncomfortable, but His style and His approach raised eyebrows everywhere He went. You can’t change the message of the Cross and save the world, but you have to change your methods and your language to reach different people. Sadly, some of us holding the life-preservers missed the boat on this one.

So to be clear, we need to quit living in the past, like Eccl 7:10 says, “Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Also, introduce a few new songs occasionally -- music is the heart-language for many young people, i.e., the next generation. You do realize even the oldest classics like Amazing Grace were once new songs. It wouldn’t hurt to switch up your Bible translation every once in a while too, there’s a good reason we have newer translations; words change their meaning over time. The Bible is inspired, not your translation. And finally, try seeing “church” from an outsider’s perspective. If we aren’t careful and purposeful, everything we do becomes about us and can seem dated, antiquated, and out of touch -- not because Jesus will ever lose His relevance but because you don’t find good news in a time-capsule.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Does your faith...?

For years, I noticed every congregation had its fringe members. People who would show up late only to leave early, those folks who sat in the back but rarely got involved. When I was a younger minister I thought these were just lazy “pew-packers.” Nowadays my guess is there’s a history I’m unaware of, like they’ve probably suffered from abuse or burnout -- I’d bet they are doing the best they can just to get by.

A hard reality for churches to face is the fact that 80% of our work is done by 20% of our people, and as long as this trend continues we can expect more and more of our burdened people to drift towards the backdoor. As churches we are partly to blame for the walking wounded, some of those folks left frayed by their faith are our responsibility.

Believe it or not serving can skew our focus, even distract us from knowing God. We need to be cautious about confusing self-importance with submission, so don’t ever confuse your participation with God’s presence. For example, “But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” (Luke 10:40) If you are amazed to hear that Jesus doesn’t congratulate Martha for her selfless dedication, you should read the rest of that story and examine Jesus’ surprising response.

While Ministerial staff members are at a high risk for burnout (it ravages the pastorate), if the truth be told, when it comes to balancing out serving and resting, we who preach and teach often set the worst examples for the flock. Burnout leads to fallout; for example just recall Boxer from Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” So much of this world/life drains us, but our faith shouldn’t. Churches will wear you out if you let them, regardless of which side of the lectern you’re standing on.

Sure, when it comes to church work some people are hardwired to serve like a Border Collie and they’re “all in.” We should be active, but we shouldn’t deceive ourselves either -- there are graveyards filled with congregants who thought their local church couldn’t continue without them.

How did we get so far off track? Well, for far too long we’ve underestimated the value of solitude and quiet meditation. While we’ve treated our faith like it was a sprint, we’re in a spiritual marathon for which we seem poorly trained. We’ve refused to acknowledge our need to rest, as if it were a weakness or some sort of sin. We've sabotaged the concept of a Sabbatical, and as a result, we’re exhausted too early and too often.

Jesus clearly instructed His weary disciples to take a break, “And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6:31) And elsewhere Jesus also said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) God values rest, it’s a necessary gift.

Psalm 127:1-2 firmly establishes a worthwhile, holistic perspective in all of this: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” In other words, if God isn’t the driving force then our efforts are pointless anyway. And at the end of the day, faith should leave us feeling rested.

We should feel excitement about our kingdom work and church involvement should energize us. We shouldn’t dread serving, it should be a priority not a problem. In the end, ask yourself: Does my faith refresh me or does it drain me? If your faith continually drains you, taking its toll on you, it’s not healthy or fulfilling and it’s not what David wrote about in Psalm 23:3 when he says of God, “He restores my soul...”

Monday, April 23, 2018

The power of a broken plate:

It's weird, but when this plate broke, it hit me rather hard, leaving me with an unexpected emotional reaction.  You see, if you've eaten a meal at our table in the last 20-plus years, you were served food off of one of these plates.  I have to admit, when Tammy bought the set I wasn't happy. 

We were passing through Springfield Missouri on our way home from Oklahoma, returning from the Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop when Tammy went into a store I was unfamiliar with at the time, Tuesday Morning.  She came out with the complete set of dishes, including saucers, coffee cups, soup bowls, the whole kit & caboodle.  The last thing I wanted to do was load these up in our minivan. 

But, Tammy knew, if were were going to practice hospitality properly, we needed something presentable like these.  Over time, I grew to appreciate the set and I can admit, I'm truly glad Tammy picked the set up. 

When this plate broke, it reminded me instantly of the many friends and dozens of guests we had served meals to on these plates over the years.  The laughter, the tears, the comings & goings of life, all passed over these plates like a change of seasons.  We've bonded with people and shared life around a number of tables and in many rooms in several houses, meeting new friends and saying good bye to others, but all in the presence of these plates. 

It's amazing how something so simple as a broken plate has the power to remind one of the depth of fellowship and its role in our life.  I imagine over time, each of these plates will finally find their way to the garbage, but not before they leave their mark. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

When what we want, seems to elude us

I'm not sure why life refuses to promise us security or why it withholds any assurances of success.  The only guarantees in life seem to be, if you lick a frozen flagpole your tongue will stick, if you put your hand on a hot stove-top you'll get burned, and if all of your friends jump off a cliff, well you get the idea.

Relationships fall apart, factories close down, unanticipated sickness can strike -- all without notice.  Which seems to leave us with two choices.  Fight the stream or get swept away.

The reality is, hard work, doing the right thing, or simply having good intentions are insufficient for reaching all of your goals -- unscathed.  Having an inner ability to persist, to never give up, to have the grit to face defeat undeterred by our setbacks, this is rare and it still doesn't insure you will win.

Life is a struggle.  Charisma, self-confidence, or a great skill-set won't carry the day.

You have to ask yourself which is worse, not achieving your dreams or not even trying.  Most people cave under the pressure of everyday life, they won't even try in the face of the odds that are stacked against them.  Do you pity them, respect them, or want to be like them?

Maintaining hope requires an active but mature imagination, developing a strong will, and an ability to accept that failures and obstacles always pave the path leading to the finish line.  The voices of your childhood telling you you could be anything or do anything you want must be balanced against the cold truth that nothing comes easy in this life.

Beware of simple answers that promise to reduce the risks, beware of employing underhanded or manipulative tactics, beware of slogans and platitudes that diminish the facts.  Sure, you could just adjust your expectations, all it takes is a motivational poster on the wall...

Can you be happy irregardless of the circumstances or does your satisfaction depend on externals that will mainly remain outside of your control?  Become the person that doesn't resort to justifying any means to reach their end, and who can experience peace in every situation, do this and you will have accomplished more than reaching any temporary goal/dream that has persistently evaded you.

Don't give up the fight.  But don't give into it either.  In the end, when what you seek eludes you, the important perspective centers on "who" you are, not on "what" you achieved/acquired.  Attitude and character trump everything else. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Schools shootings are really a symptom of

Headaches are a symptom of high blood pressure -- don’t ask me how I know. Taking an aspirin might help the headache, but it won’t address the hypertension that is killing you. School shootings are getting a lot of focus, but I submit these shootings are a symptom of an even darker problem.

Some people have rightly pointed out that “studies” don’t tie school shootings to the violent video games that have consumed our Nation’s young people. Common sense tells me otherwise. Still, even so, the video games and actions movies that glorify killing are only a symptom, they’re not the actual disease.

There are two lightning rod issues that have our nation divided: Abortion and gun control. Second Amendment advocates are unwilling to relinquish assault weapons. Why not? Because if you can ban one type of firearm, the rest will soon be taken away. It’s the same thinking with partial-birth abortions. I don’t know anyone in their right mind that thinks terminating a baby once it enters the birth canal is OKAY. Yet, if that “procedure” is outlawed, then it’s only a matter of time until all abortions are eliminated.

When I was growing up, “gun control” was resting the barrel of your rifle across a branch or on a log to steady your aim. And, all life was sacred; pregnant women “glowed” and all babies were considered precious.

In case you are wondering where I stand, I’m pro-life, and while I grew up with guns and think we should all have the right to bear arms, I can’t really see the need for civilians to have military assault weapons. But again, people on both sides of the divide are unwilling to budge, because they think these are “all or nothing” issues and they fear losing their stance.

My favorite rifle is a .30-30, and I’d like to one day own a “Judge” handgun, it’s a .45 that also holds 410 shotgun shells. The way I grew up, guns were for sport, hunting, and home-protection. Guns were never for resolving petty conflicts. We were taught from a young age to have respect for life indirectly and gun safety overtly.

Guns and abortions aren’t even half of the equation. People don’t even respect their own health these days. Cigarettes probably kill more people than anything else. Forks kill more people than guns do -- we are an obese nation that loves fatty and high-sugar-content foods. Our lifestyles are killing us.

Life isn’t valued, that is the disease! Many of these violent tragedies we are so worried about are simply the symptoms of a culture that disrespects life. This problem didn’t spring up overnight and it won’t be resolved in a day. There are no easy ways to address this malignancy that is devouring us.

Similar to suicide, mass shootings are a last resort to fixing a problem. Kids don’t kill their classmates because they feel like they other tools to address their problems, they see it as the only way. Why? We have a generation of people who don’t, A: know how to resolve their conflicts/problems, and B: They have devalued life.

Whenever we politicize any issue (think gun control and abortions) society loses its bearings. Please stop thinking and believing politicians have the ability to solve our social woes or that they can fix our moral dilemmas. Start teaching the toddlers in your life to work out their own problems and teach them about the sanctity of all human life, and then maybe in a generation we’ll see less death and violence. If not, then pray, Lord Come Quickly.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Discovering God in chicken's milk...

What’s more important than asking the age-old question, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Asking, “Why can’t we milk a chicken?” is more valuable, if you ask me. I know, the scientific reason we can’t milk a chicken is due to the fact that biologically, chickens are birds, they aren’t mammals. Still, why can’t I have it all?

What started this line of questioning, for me? It occurred to me while I was eating my cheese-covered scrambled eggs: If only we could milk chickens, they would be the perfect breakfast-producing-animal ever. This in turn got me thinking about the point some atheists make when they try to refute the existence of God, that being, this creation we inhabit isn’t perfect. Because as they assert, if a perfect God created the world, why are there imperfections all over the place?

That’s a fair question. Why isn’t this world a utopia? Why can’t I fly like a bird and breathe underwater like a fish, and then drive my car when flying or swimming is inconvenient? Why do we have unmet expectations, and why aren’t all of our desires fulfilled? Why do we have so many limitations and problems?

We could respond, the Garden of Eden was perfect before mankind sinned. But then people could ask, why were the first people allowed to sin and mess it all up? How did that slippery serpent sneak into the garden anyway? Still, even in the Garden of Eden, we couldn’t milk our chickens..., so Eden wasn’t quite a utopia.

But, doesn’t the Bible say everything was perfect when God finished creation? Not really. Several times at the conclusion of each day of creation we read, “it was good,” and on the last day of creation we read, “it was very good.” Yet nowhere do we read it was a “sublime heavenly perfection.” It’s the material universe, and it is very good, but this realm leaves plenty of room for the perfect.

Recognizing imperfections requires a standard of what perfection could be. This follows the same line of reasoning that the existence of evil and suffering points us eventually to a loving God. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but think through the implications. To say there is evil is to recognize there is good. Yet, a material universe can’t solely account for this understanding or provide a standard of good/evil. Therefore, when we are offended by evil, injustice, or wrongdoing, it’s because there is a universal sense of good. Just what is the source of that good? It must be a supernatural source providing our standard.

Another way to look at this is to realize that asking why is this world so imperfect isn’t the right question. Asking “how” can we tell this world isn’t perfect reveals much more.

Around 200 years ago, atheistic philosophers tried in earnest to assert the existence of evil and suffering disproves God’s existence. Not anymore, they realize that doesn’t add up. Logically speaking, evil doesn’t disprove God or His goodness.

You might still be asking: Why isn’t this world better or perfect? What if there is an otherworldly perfection God wants us to long for, and this stage of our existence is like the appetizer but eternity is the actual main course? We all need to ask, what if this life is not all there is?

By this point, you might’ve wondered to yourself, why would I conceptualize a chicken we could milk over conjuring up in my mind a cow that laid eggs. That’s simple. Could you really find room in the fridge for eggs if they came from a cow...?