Saturday, June 29, 2013

Distracted by DOMA

Not surprisingly, Americans reacted passionately to the Supreme Court’s decisions surrounding the “Defence of Marriage Act” (henceforth DOMA).  Advocates of same-sex marriage saw their ruling as a victory.  Many more people, on the other hand, see this as the beginning of the end.  Will America collapse, just like historically every other great civilization has, shorlty after accepting homosexualty? Several books chronicle the great cultures from Ancient Egypt on, who after equalizing or elevating homosexualtiy, those cultures quickly fell.

Christians really shouldn’t be surprised at the Supreme Court’s ruling.  We live in a world that is hostile to the faith, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19 ESV)  As a nation built on Judeo-Christian beliefs, the USA is still just a Republic, one governed not as a theocracy, but democratically by elected/fallible people.  

Much of the New Testament was written during the reign of Nero, an openly bi-sexual Emperor.  History records Nero as marrying a young man named Sporus. (If this is \new to you, do a google search of "Suetonius Nero Sporus" for more info. Suetonius was a historian, born 69/70 AD, died around 129/30 AD and he wrote the history of 12 Caesars). After quickly depriving Sporus of his male parts, they publically consummated their marriage in a parade.  The contemporary authors of the New Testament were silent on this vulgar offence their world leader committed.  

Instead of asking Christians to rise up in protest to Rome, they penned these instructions: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1 ESV)  And, “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV) So far, I have yet to hear any Christians promoting these passages in regards to DOMA...

Where am I going with this? I love our country, and as Merle Haggard sang a generation ago, “If you don’t love it, leave it.” As patriotic as I am -- I cry when the National Anthem is sung, I get goosebumps when we raise the Flag, and I’m very proud of our young men & women who serve in our Armed Forces -- still, I know America is temporary by nature.  

300 hundred years ago we didn’t have “The United States of America.”  We nearly disintegrated once too, 150 years ago when we were in the middle of the deadliest war our country has yet to see -- battling with ourselves!  Who knows what the next 50 to 100 years will have in store?  This much I do know, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ...”(Philippians 3:20 ESV)

This fall, Disney’s “Good Luck Charlie” will have a child character who has two moms.  TV has aired gay couples in Sitcoms for at least a decade now.  I don’t hear about Americans unplugging their TVs en masse.  We have two sons, working at separate Starbucks stores.  Starbucks is very open in their acceptance of the non-traditional-family views shared by the gay community.  So far, both of our sons remain heterosexuals.  And, coincidentally, I drink Starbucks coffee and I’m NOT attracted to men.  The laws as laid down by the Supreme Court aren’t going to change our perspectives on marriage either.  

We should ask ourselves if the Supreme Court DOMA Ruling is even relevant?  Will DOMA change your mind or actions?  Will you suddenly cast off your moral values?  No.  With less than 5% of our nation actually claiming a same-sex attraction, and with the host of other problems we are facing, I can’t believe the uproar over the DOMA ruling.  If anything, the attention DOMA is receiving, is a distraction.  Why are we overly concerned about the actions of people who aren’t responsible to adhere to our standards?  Paul wrote, “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.”(Romans 6:20 ESV)  

Read that last verse again, about non-believers existing outside a position to obey God.  We need to quit acting like the world is supposed to behave as we think they should.  And more to the point, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12 ESV)  If DOMA does anything, it reminds us to take a good look in the mirror, be more consistent in living faithful lives that honor God, and DOMA encourages us to clean up our own backyard before we worry about our neighbor’s.  

I’m not happy about the direction we are apparently going, but let’s not be hypocritical regarding DOMA.  We who are heterosexuals carry our share of problems.  Some might even call our “socially acceptable” behaviors sinful.  We have affairs, we have unmarried couples cohabitating, we conceive children out of wedlock -- we haven't exactly defended the sanctity of marriage ourselves.  We are far from perfect.  Someone once said something about those who are without sin, they should throw the first stone... Yeah, I like that better than throwing rocks in glass houses.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Becoming Doormen, not gatekeepers...

Last Sunday after our worship service, a good friend nervously confessed something to me,  "Man, I hate to admit it, but I've never been on our church's website." He looked concerned, like he might have just hurt my feelings.  He looked very relaxed and reassured when I smiled and said, "That's totally fine, really, don't worry about it, the website isn't for you anyway."  We both smiled and laughed, and I explained that our church's website is 110% designed for people to safely check out New Song - it's not tailored for the people who are already there.  To illustrate what I meant, I got out my phone and shared this tab from our website as a good example of what our website is really for:

Thankfully, my friend is on the same page as me; we both have a heart for people who haven't found their way to God or who haven't found their way back to God.  We laughed at how the link I shared with him could be offensive to "religious" people!  We talked at some length on how inward focused churches can become, but how healthy it is to be inclusive and reach people with healthy relationships, not a country-club religion.

This whole conversation we had Sunday was so good.  It was encouraging to me to talk openly with someone who values the same principle, namely that we exist as a church not to perpetuate our way or style of doing church, but we exist to make a space for people to see Jesus clearly.  We shared the common vision of New Song in that conversation, existing to open a door for people to experience a healthy relationship with God, not to conform to a mold.

When churches see they don't exist for themselves, maybe then they can lose their defensiveness and get on with our calling.

"And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mark 2:15-17 ESV)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Facing down Father's day:

I was curious, and had a hunch too how this week might go.  I've been wondering if people would make as big of a deal about being offended by Father's day as they did over Mother's day, this year.  Last month we had the blog posts over "please don't ask moms to stand" in the church service, it's offensive to the women who do not have kids or who have had bad mothers.  I find it interesting that the battle cry to keep Father's Day quiet hasn't been sounded as well?

I know I've had men approach me the week before Father's day and lament how they get beat up from the pulpit (not by me, of course) every year as the Father's Day sermon hones in how pathetic the typical dad is.  Disconnected dad is not the spiritual leader he needs to be, he never has time for his kids, and he doesn't give enough attention to his family because of work, etc, etc, etc...

I plan to highlight the wonderful role Fatherhood plays in our churches & communities.  As I broke with the current fad last month and honored moms anyway, I also hope to honor our fathers this Sunday too.  Call me an iconoclast.... but I won't beat up the dads as I honor them from the pulpit this Sunday.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Purge:

We saw the new movie, "The Purge" tonight.
The movie raised great ethical, moral and social questions.
I won't spoil the ending, not even in the slightest.  Promise.

The trailer and preview do a good enough job of introducing the plot:
One day out of the year, for 12 hours, all crime is legal.  Especially murder.

The thesis of the future America, as portrayed in the movie, is that people need a cathartic night where they can let off some steam.  Crime & unemployment, in the plot line are down, and for 364 days a year America is nearly Utopian.

The movie takes an immediate twist, as you can see in the commercials and previews, where one of the family members lets in someone who is being hunted down on the night of the Purge.  The tactic here is to use the standard ethical dilemma, along the lines of if you lived in Nazi Germany and the Gestapo knocked on your door, asking if you were harboring any Jewish people...  what should you do?

Bottom line though, and this is the valuable part of watching the movie: How do we manage our sinful nature?
Should we have a night of abandonment?  Running rampant without any consequences, in this plot, supposedly curbed the worst human behaviors.  The corollary truth the plot wrestles with is, does this night of "purging" our evil actions have a justification -- does it make it right to have a reckless night where everything is allowable, just because it "works" by lowering crime the rest of the year?

The plot kept my attention and it had plenty of tension.  It was an easy to follow story-line and while it had some predicable parts, it was not as predicable as you might guess.  Any movie that can get people thinking or asking deep questions is a step above 99.9% of the movies that aren't even worth renting from Redbox.  The Purge was one of those movies that gets the wheels turning, and is worth watching...

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Marriage Lifesavers

NOTE: This post isn't a reflection of you or of any particular couple, so please don't read "your" story into this post.  My thoughts here are an accumulation of experiences.

I have counseled dozens of couples throughout the years.  It goes in cycles of intensity.
Every several months or so, I will minister to a couple who is having their share of struggles; sometimes I'm counselling a few couples at once.

There's no shame in needing counseling.
Every couple will eventually hit problems they are unprepared for and unequipped to address.  

I've watched as some marriages thrive afterward and I've cried as some dissolved.
But overall, I've learned a lot through the years and here are two important truths I'd like to share:
#1. People need to "want" to salvage their marriages more than I should want it for them.
#2. Everyone with kids will say at one time or another, once the kids grow up _____________...
(You can probably fill in the blank)

Let me quickly address #1, the idea that people need to want to fix their marriages more than I want it fixed for them.  I want to empathize with a couple, but I need to realize that they have to want to work on their marriage more than I want to see their problems resolved.  That was my hardest lesson to learn, early on.

I learned this lesson when a couple came to my office saying they were getting a divorce.  One of the two matter-of-factually told me, "I'm not in love with _____ anymore."  I loved that couple so much.  They were one of my favorite couples in our circle of friends.  I spent two weeks with them, intensely counseling with them, begging and pleading with them.  I cried really hard when they did divorce.  I learned then, if people don't want to work on their problems, it's really unhealthy for me to want what's best for them, more than they want it.

Now to #2, "the kids."
What does it mean when couples are staying married for the kids?
I tell couples that if they are holding on until their children grow up, only to divorce once the kids are grown, they are going to hurt their children.  How so?

First, the kids will look back and feel guilty.  They will think they caused you lingering pain; because you only tolerated your spouse for them.  They also blame themselves for your junk.  Second, the kids now have, an unhealthy model of marriage.  It matters little in comparison, as to what we say to our kids and the lifestyle we model for them. They will replicate what we model, not what we lecture to them about.  So you haven't really helped them learn how to have a healthy marriage, and when your grand-kids face growing up in a broken home, you'll regret not having had passed on a legacy of what healthy marriages are...

Finally though, to hang for the kids is really a selfish motivation, selfish in that you are defending your own feelings.  It's actually a lack of ability to personally see your kids in pain, so you tell yourself you don't want to see the kids hurt, but really it's more likely you can't handle how much pain you will suffer from watching them in pain.

You really are protecting yourself, because it's hurts you too much to see the kids in pain.  It's a bit twisted actually.  What you say is, "I can't stand the thought of seeing their little hearts broken..." and if you break that sentence down, it's a total reflection on you, not on them.  Of course you don't want them to hurt, but the reality is, you can't bear the pain yourself.  It's self-centered and it's not as sincere as we deceive ourselves into thinking it is.

I'm convinced that any marriage can be healthy -- if the couple wants to work on it with the right priorities.  People can fall back in love and have thriving marriages and can overlook or forgive any problems, if they want to.  They can learn to love and be loved.  No one else can force this though, and no else can magically manufacture a happy ending for someone else.  People are resilient and can do wonderful things -- when we nurture or cultivate an environment where they can grow...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Be the miracle:

(This post is my religion column for the Kingsport Timesnews, 6/7/13)

Recently I renewed my driver’s licence, and instead of being smart and simply renewing it online, I actually went to the DMV.  Sitting down for my nearly one hour wait, I faced a single poster on the wall.  

The poster in the DMV waiting room displayed 17 empty chairs.  The caption under the empty chairs acknowledged waiting in line is painful. But more powerfully, the poster pointed out that daily, 17 people die while waiting for an organ donation.  Why place this poster in the DMV?  Because the DMV is a convenient place to sign up to be an organ donor!  You can also sign up online to give the gift of life. In Tennessee, to regesiter go to and in Virgina you can regesiter online at,  

Somewhere between 17 and 18 people die daily, right here in America, waiting for a lifesaving transplant.  NFL players, school teachers, children, parents, soliders -- real people..., slowly and painfully fade away, waiting.  Yet, when someone passes on their organs, then 7 to 8 lives are potentially saved “overnight” (We say 7 or 8, based on whether or not all of their organs -- think heart, lungs, liver, etc. are healthy).  Though not always the case, one website I looked at said occasionally it is possible for 9 lives to be saved from one donor (if the liver is segmented for two recipients and all the organs are healthy).  

I have a friend who considers his role as a “dual advocate” in the realm of organ donation. He works for an organization that basically facilitates the hand-off from an organ donor’s side to the next phase for a recipient, and all the while, he is there for the family of the recently deceased.  Comforting, counseling, answering tough questions, seeking to be a healing presence.  My friend told me that when a person graciously donates their organs, not only is there the potential for passing on the 7 or 8 lifesaving-major organs, but, 50 to 100 other people are also going to be helped out in areas you might not think of  -- like skin grafts, certain useful components of the eye, bone and other soft-tissue which are also recoverable.

As a minister within a church context and as a volunteer chaplain with our local hospital system, I’ve witnessed firsthand some very tragic situations; suicides, and deaths from motor vehicle accidents are among the most difficult.  Very recently I spent time with a family who lost a young person to suicide, and honestly, the worst day of their lives just became the happiest day in the lives of at least 7 people.  What an opportunity to transform your worst nightmare, into a dream come true for several families.  

My heart literally breaks for the people as they lose a loved one.  But the best way forward for any family who has tragically lost a loved one, is to turn the page and create a happy ending. Giving the gift of life (when death has robbed your family) is the best conclusion to your loved one’s story.  It is a paradox in the truest sense of the word, someone’s world just collapsed around them and simultaneously a host of dying people receive a new lease on life.  

Please, tell your family if you are an organ donor.  Legally, donating is your choice, but people spend precious time with our families to facilitate the transplant process, and time is of the essence when we die.  Communicating your desires will help ease the minds of your loved ones on the day you no longer need your organs, and remember, someone is desperately waiting for their transplant.  Also, if you are not an organ donor, please prayerfully consider registering as one.  And, if you ever have a loved one pass on who is not an organ donor, when you are called upon to make a heartfelt decision, think life.

Back to my friend who stands in the gap between life and death.  He told me about a training session his organization sent him to. A middle aged woman wearing a stethoscope (who my friend said was obviously not a medical professional) walked up to a younger man, maybe in his late 20’s or early 30’s.  She placed the stethoscope up to his chest.  She breathed in deeply, slowly exhaled and smiled.  She said, “Ah, finally I get to hear my son’s heartbeat.”   And for my friend, it all kind of came together -- her family’s loss meant life for the other young man, and somehow joy was restored in the life of a mother who sadly outlived her son.  

Seven to eight people per donor are saying, “I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for...” So please remember the 17 people who are not so fortunate and please join with me in changing that.  Currently, there are at least 113,000 Americans waiting for a transplant, with a new name added to that list every 10 minutes!  I’m proudly registered as an organ donor and I encourage you to say “yes” to life when yours ends.  Be the miracle, desperate people are dying for.