Friday, May 3, 2019

Why are we jaded about "church" when it comes to the topic of money?

There are times when people are strangely transparent. Unsolicited, folks will frankly confess their infidelities, petty crimes, or simply share gory details about a recent illness (of which you’d rather not have heard about and you leave the conversation feeling rather awkward), but, just ask someone how much money they make or what they currently have in the bank and they will unravel like a cheap sweater.

If you don’t believe me that asking about money is offensive, just ask the next person you talk to. We are often scolded and told, “Don’t you dare talk about religion or politics...,” when you get together, “you’ll just upset everyone!” In reality, the real lightning rod topic is money.

Similarly, consider the uproar that ensues whenever a community has to set the town’s budget or they decide to build a new structure, like a school. Divers opinions clash, people get upset, and everyone knows how best the money should/shouldn’t be spent -- everyone apparently is an instant expert.

Everyone (also) gets embarrassed when it comes to disclosing their personal finances -- the key term here is “personal.” Think of people, other than those in your own household, and try to name a few of which you know their annual income. I can’t, after all, it’s none of my business, and the point is, we don’t divulge this kind of information to each other regardless of how close we are.

On a related note, why is it that most churches have enough “Jesus” but never enough money? I rarely preach about “giving” for a few reasons. Maybe this brief vignette will help illustrate why:

I recently heard about a married person who had been trying hard for over 20 years to get their spouse to join them at church on a Sunday morning. “Well,” the other one said, “the only thing churches are really interested in is my money, so no thank you.” Over time though the “faithful” one finally wore the other one down, and the invited one acquiesced and agreed to go with. Putting on their “Sunday best” even though a non-member, the other went along. I bet you can guess what the pastor happened to preach on that Sunday. That spouse left church that Sunday, and poor excuse or not, hasn’t darkened the doors since. I doubt they will ever again, until their funeral that is.

So does this mean churches shouldn’t ever broach the subject of money? After all, Jesus talked about money and the Bible has many passages dedicated to the subject.

I think money, tithing, and how we treat our resources are spiritual matters. But, for our churches, they are probably best addressed over a cup of coffee, in a small group study, or some other informal/relaxed setting besides on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately, our congregations weekly send the message to “visitors” we are more interested in their money than any other topic every week when we pass “the plate” every Sunday and “take up” the offering, or when we dedicate an entire month of sermons to next year’s budget.

We already have enough obstacles to evangelism these days, so let’s not put up another costly roadblock when it comes to reaching people who are already (rightfully so) cynical or jaded. Yes money is a matter of spiritual maturity and we need to be honest and open about our church’s fiscal needs as well as the snares of money, but not at the expense of alienating lost souls.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Top 10 list of what I miss about the Midwest

#10. Streets laid out in a north south east west grid

#9. The Chicago skyline from a distance 

#8. The distinction in seasons, even if winter spills over into late April and Indian Summer lasts throughout October

#7. Prairie landscapes

#6. Bonfires & pigs roasting in the ground

#5. Freight trains stretched out as far as the eye can see

#4. Ethnic diversity

#3. The most incredible Sunsets on the planet 

#2 Food you can’t find anywhere else, especially Portillos

#1. Straightforward Midwesterner bluntness. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Traditional values being suppressed & why Hijacking words works better than censorship

When you think of the word “profession,” you probably think about a career, an occupation, or a job. A Professional then is the opposite of an amateur. But did you know, originally the word profession was about verbalizing your religious vows? Many words evolve naturally over time, usually the change is benign. Currently, we are in the midst of a wicked cultural shift and key words that once represented certain values are being hijacked.

Words are powerful, after all “in the beginning” the universe was spoken into existence. Words have the power to shape our thoughts, attitudes, and our actions. Words matter.

As if from within an Orwellian plot, stealthy characters have stolen certain words from us and transformed them into something alarming. At one time, these words had carried a certain meaning, and suddenly it seems, they mean something completely different today. Traditionally these words resonated deep within us, reaffirming values and virtues, holding sway over us. The grunt work of getting us to accept the validity of these words was accomplished long ago, so harnessing these words with a subtle sleight of hand was nothing less than genius.

For example, the word “celebrate” once meant rejoicing over achieving an accomplishment or reaching a milestone. Now, “celebrate” refers to accepting alternative lifestyles that once were deemed repulsive. Consider the current phrase “Celebrating diversity.”

In the same way, the word “privilege” has been altered. It once stood for an honorable or special possession. Now, when we hear it, it carries the notion of being overbearing, forceful, and autocratic.

“Spirituality” once held tightly to a view of the supernatural, it signaled the truth that we are mortals and we derive our meaning and purpose from God, to Whom we naturally should submit to. Not so today. Spirituality is whatever you want to be: Warm fuzzies, good vibes, or happy thoughts. You simply create your own reality, and BAM, you are one with the universe...

Another big one is the word “tolerance.” At one time, tolerance indicated a respectful attitude, one that considered the opinions of others with which we disagree. No longer. Tolerance now implies all views have to be considered equal, regardless of how bizarre or perverted they may be, and these contrary views have to be accepted by all. And, have mercy on the soul that is labeled “intolerant” in today’s relativistic society.

I’m sure the same can be said of “fairness,” “equality,” and “normal.” Forget restraint, frugality, or hard work. Now to be fair and have equality, everyone else deserves what you have regardless of effort, hard work, or merit. And everyone deserves to be treated not just the same, but better than you. Fairness is no longer fair, it’s a word that is used to leverage power over anyone who is deemed more successful.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to observe how the word “sexuality” has been taken apart, killed, and reanimated like a freakish frankenstein creature. Biology, DNA, and common sense have been discarded and now feelings or preferences rule the day. This of course corrupts the word “family” as well.

The reason for reframing these words is to persuade us to change our views or to silence our objections. If we disagree with the way these words have been changed or if we call attention to the charade, we are labeled as intolerant bigots, homophobic, or hatemongers.

Be sure of this, we will see the rise of censorship and the increase of listed hate crimes over the next decade, specifically targeting Christians. Unless we do something radical we will be forbidden by law from proclaiming the truths of the Christian faith or stating what our core beliefs are. We won’t be allowed to use the word sin or label any activity as sinful, for soon it will be a criminal offence.

It’s time to say what we mean and mean what we say and reclaim the true meaning of these words I’ve highlighted and probably many more. We don’t have to be judgmental, legalistic, harsh, or cruel to stand by our virtues and values, the ones that have shaped our hearts and souls for generations -- but we do have to profess what we believe if we want to make a difference.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Liberation from sin: Name the secret, break the power

You know right from wrong, and you know the grip certain sins can have on you personally. Sin is fun, often quite enjoyable. I don’t have to list out here every gory sin for you, but it should be no surprise that sin can become all-consuming. Sin, just like quicksand, seemingly sucks us in the more we fight it. Is there any hope, especially the deeper we sink into the sin that has engulfed us?

On top of the fact that we find our sin pleasurable, as you already know, sin can embarrass us. Which is why we usually hide our sinful activity from those who matter to us. Whether you’re skimming money off the top, hooked on pornography, or neck-deep in an affair, I doubt you are posting anything about it on Facebook for your family to see. Therefore, the last idea that pops in our mind is telling someone about our sin-struggle. Yet, telling someone you trust is actually one of the most important steps you can take to find freedom.

What we need most is the thing we usually avoid, which is why what James writes in 5:16 seems counterintuitive, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” Why/how does this awkward step of confessing our sin make a difference?

Naming the secret breaks its power over us. Satan traffics in secrecy and humiliation. Satan uses lies and manipulation to keep us enslaved. Verbalizing our sin to another unshackles us from the hold it has on us. How does telling others our dirty little secrets help? We, normally, don’t want to disappoint those we care about. By telling them what we've been up to, they have an opportunity to encourage us, advise us, and keep us accountable.

Confession isn’t about rule-keeping, it’s about being supported by like-minded people who want the best for each other. James says it’s about being honest with other believers who will pray for us, intercede for us, strengthen us. Satan wants to alienate us, so he whispers in our ear “if they really knew what you were into...” Don’t fall for that.

Confession doesn’t deepen our shame, it erases it. Most people share similar struggles, like I Cor 10:13 states, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man....” Therefore, when we reveal what we are trapped in, others can empathize, since many people have had one type of struggle or another. In other words, nearly everyone understands where you are too.

Just like the way mold thrives in dark damp corners, sin grows when it’s hidden. Which is why bringing sin into the light is vital. Consider what Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:7-14, “7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Compare this to what we read in John 3:19-21, “19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

Dreaming your sin problems will go away on their own, putting off addressing it, and thinking you can control this on your own is simply delusional. Whatever darkness that is swallowing you up alive, you need to tell someone who loves you, someone you trust, someone who will pray with you and for you. Please remember, when you name the secret you break its power, and when you break its power you will find freedom. May you be healed and whole, and enjoy the blessings of fellowshipping with other imperfect people who stumble but don’t give up either.

Monday, January 14, 2019

What is one of the hardest challenges for most Christians?

One of, if not, the hardest disciplines for Christians is reevaluating what we believe. Particularly, I’m talking about taking another look at certain doctrines we adhere to. It’s scary, I get it. It’s not so much that we are afraid to be mistaken occasionally (surely we are too humble to think we know it all), it’s more likely we are afraid that if we are wrong about one or two major points, maybe we are wrong about all of our beliefs.

What am I recommending here? I propose you take time periodically to review some of your core beliefs and try to see where you can grow in your depth of understanding. If you haven’t changed your opinions on any Biblical truths in a while, then simply put, you aren’t maturing.

If you found that last paragraph distasteful because of my use of the word “opinions” when it comes to what you believe, then you probably won’t see any need to reexamine what you “think” you know. In reality, there is absolute truth, and God wants us to comprehend it. Sadly, many people prematurely think they’ve “arrived,” or they won’t take the time or put forth the effort to reach the truth. And yes, you form opinions and you likely hold to these opinions as if they all are 100% accurate, but we should know we are fallible. Another way of saying this is, a little humility goes a long way.

The idea here isn’t to cause insecurity in your beliefs, instead it’s quite the opposite. The best way to deepen our confidence in our accumulated knowledge & comprehension is to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (II Tim 2:15). One result from this approach is having a faith we can share confidently with others, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (I Pet 3:15). This calls for studying God’s word, seeking to interpret and apply it accurately, which all requires a personal dedication to thinking through what we think we believe. 

In other words: Don’t just take the word of the preacher or of your mentor when it comes to the Bible. Trust the Holy Spirit to guide you. We also need to be more like the Bereans in Acts when they checked for themselves regarding the things they were hearing from Paul & Silas, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

One of the best ways we can grow is when we challenge our thinking by bouncing our ideas off of each other. Consider Prov 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” I have a good friend, for example, who I love dearly. We see some doctrines quite differently from each other. Neither of us, thankfully, let our differences interfere with our relationship. We don’t try to browbeat each other even though we have solid convictions. Hopefully my friend will come around to my line of thinking in some areas..., and hopefully I will gain some better understanding from him in others.

If you always read the same translation when you study the Bible, surround yourself on Sunday solely with people who agree with you on every point, and you hesitate to rethink key portions of the Scriptures, you probably don’t have an ownership of your faith. You might be faithful, please, I’m not questioning that. But you might have settled for a borrowed faith or a faith that’s in a state of arrested development. Please don’t settle.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Sure, just keep politicizing Jesus, it's the holidays after all

With the holidays in full swing, our focus should be on Jesus, not on polarizing our families by politicizing Him. It’s hard to avoid talking about politics with the folks you are related to, especially when you feel compelled to convince them of the errors of their ways and enlighten them with your clarity. But please, avoid the mistake of thinking Jesus is always aligned with your political party’s positions.

For most of my adult life, I’ve tried to improve my station in life. Who wouldn’t want to provide well for their family? It think it is noble and admirable to take care of your family as best as you can.

Before I went to college, I worked for good concrete contractors who paid better than the companies I previously worked for. After college, I went on to earn two Master's degrees; yes to improve my skills in ministry, but also with the hope I could provide better for my family. So I say all of that to say, I do not begrudge anyone from anywhere who wants to make a better life for themselves or their family -- which is the root issue for the folks trying to immigrate to America.

You literally would have to live under a rock if you haven't heard about the caravan at the border. I can appreciate the efforts thousands of people have made, traveling thousands of miles towards the “Land of opportunity.” What I don’t appreciate are the incorrect comparisons to the immigrants traveling here to the birth narrative of Jesus.

For example, perhaps you’re familiar with the Indiana Church making headlines. Attempting to make a political statement, they have the Holy Family incarcerated/detained by I.C.E. -- they have an outdoor nativity scene surrounded by a chain-link fence, topped with barbed wire. There’s only one slight problem with this display, it’s grossly inaccurate.

Again, I understand the appeal of coming to America. And, you know if someone would work as hard at reaching our borders as these people have, they would work hard at any job they might land once they are here. Still, these people are not refugees, not in the sense that they come from famine or war-torn battlefields. And for the love of all that is holy, let’s not say their plight compares to Jesus’ earliest childhood years.

You might have heard the quote that’s making its rounds on the social media circuit, it goes something like this, “How can we worship a refuge on Sunday and ignore refugees on Monday?” It is supposed to shame everyone into thinking the folks trying to cross our southern border are in the same camp as Jesus. The problem with this line of thinking is, it’s mistaken and it is emotionally manipulative. Jesus’ parents weren’t seeking gainful employment when they temporarily went to Bethlehem (where there was “no room” at the Inn -- we should ask why none of Joseph's extended family took them in in his hometown), they were obeying their government's census decree. And similarly when they fled to Egypt temporarily, it was by God’s direction to avoid Herod’s attempts to kill the prophesied coming of the Jewish messiah, not to make a better living.

Neither trip for Mary and Joseph was for a permanent residency, and neither trip was financially motivated. Also, Jesus never referred to Himself as a childhood immigrant-refugee either.

If you are like me, you are exhausted when it comes to the topic of immigration. But we can’t seem to get away from it. It’s completely natural that people in impoverished nations would be attracted to what we have here in America. While I don’t know what the right answer is to our immigration situation, I do know a lot of people are not making things better by trying to exploit Jesus’ childhood or deceptively insert His childhood experiences into the context of the American immigration crisis.

I also know, sadly, we tend to gravitate towards the opinion of our favored political party without thinking issues like this all the way through. When politics doesn’t work to sway others, sometimes we employ the Bible to make our points... Does the Bible have precepts on how to deal with displaced people who are homeless wanderers? Sure. Are the people who willingly left their native South American lands and have traveled through Mexico to come here in the same category as the sojourners the Bible describes? You decide.

Whatever you do this Christmas season, please stop and think about the fact that our southern neighbors are not in and have not experienced the same situations Jesus did. It’s a bad comparison to make and it dishonors both Jesus and the folks trying to get here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Why would experts want you to distrust your memory...?

Presently, the results of the recent Midterm elections are dominating the news cycle -- shining a spotlight on the polarized state of our Nation. Don’t worry, you’ll forget all about these midterms soon enough.

You know there are other stories circulating as well, even though politics usually roars the loudest. While we are being distracted by arguments over the economy, immigration, and the future of healthcare, one subject keeps slipping under the radar. There is a subtle yet insidious small stream of information trickling throughout the media: Your memory, or more to the point, your undependable memory.

Sly efforts to undermine the confidence in our memory are slowly chipping away our confidence in our ability to recall the truth. If you haven’t heard the reports of how poorly we remember the facts yet, a simple internet search will surely leave you discouraged. Study after study reports how “notoriously unreliable” our memory is. Experts claim we generate details which are outright false, but “feel” correct.

Reach back in time and try to remember a period of time when our minds weren’t celebrated and considered trustworthy. I’d say from the 1700’s to the early 1990’s, the human mind was considered the most powerful and capable entity in the universe. Sure, the age of enlightenment had its faults, but the capacity for the mind was unquestioned. No longer is this the case in our “postmodern” milieu.

The recent Kavanaugh hearings are just one example of how “unreliable” our memory is. People on both sides of the “aisle” used faulty mental facilities to their advantage, after all these events were 35 years ago..., so the actual events would be fuzzy and hard to remember. Then, there are news reports and studies constantly being released detailing how we misremember our childhoods. Consider how parents and children remember tragic events differently in a family crisis. Therefore, the experts insist, we can’t trust our fickle minds to much of a degree of accuracy.

With the radical rise of relativism in the past few decades (that being the idea that there is no such things as absolute truth and what’s true for you isn’t true for me) the latest fatality to a Biblical Worldview is our mind. I’m guessing if you noticed this, you might not have stopped to ask what is the motivation to discredit our mental recall and the ability to trust our memory. There are similar attacks on the veracity of recorded history too. These biased perspectives have an agenda, not to uncover Truth, but to create disequilibrium, doubt, and disillusionment.

I’m of the opinion that certain people will seek to convince us we can’t trust our memory or history for the sole purpose of destroying the integrity of the Bible, and especially the reliability of the Gospel accounts. As you may recall, the Gospels weren’t written within months of the ministry of Jesus, but were recorded in written form decades afterwards.

I predict the onslaught attacking our memory and its reliability will increase rapidly over time. More and more people will become convinced that their memories are unreliable, and over time, this will erode their trust in the Scriptures. Is there an legitimacy to this attack?

Since you’ve misplaced your keys and forgotten important appointments, you might be wondering if our memories are as bad as the experts say. But then again, you’ll be hard pressed to find any contemporary who was aware of JFK's assassination that day who can’t tell you where they were when they heard the news. Same thing for those who remember 9/11. Just like the way you remember your wedding day or the last moments spent with a loved one on the day they passed, certain moments are etched on our minds with precision. Sure, you don’t remember what you ate last Saturday, but you’ll never forget the time you had food poisoning while you were on vacation.

Again, my opinion is there is a concerted effort to undermine the confidence in our memory ultimately with the goal to discredit the Bible. Not only do I believe are our minds more reliable than the experts claim, there’s the overlooked fact that the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit. Yes, human hands wrote down the sacred text, but as fallible as the individuals might have been, they were guided by God. This, along with the massive amounts of internal consistency throughout the Bible, gives me great confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible.