Thursday, November 16, 2017

Until Christians "Wow!" the rest of the world...

It’s interesting that Jesus, as far as I can remember, never told the crowds, “I’m a big deal, in fact I’m the real deal. Now, watch as I amaze you and I’ll prove it to you.” Instead, it seems like most often, Jesus told the people about who He was in response to being questioned about how/why He did what He did. In other words, people were curious about what they saw -- His actions elicited an interest in Him, which caused people to ask more about Him.

These days, we’ve approached people differently. We have the habit of saying, “We are Christians, I’ll prove it to you...” which usually entails unpacking a long list of doctrines of which we are correct about, while having very little to do with our ability to “practice what we preach.” Rarely do our actions proceed our explanation, unless we are caught in a mistake...

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the impression Jesus left on people. I doubt many people of His day walked away from encountering Jesus feeling merely indifferent about Him. I think most all of the people knew from the way Jesus carried Himself and how He acted, He was the real deal.

It has occurred to me, people (probably quite frequently) used some culturally-relevant form of “Wow!” after interacting with Jesus. And I wonder how this world would be, if we too left this type of impression. Would churches even need to advertise? Would we have to invite people to visit our churches? What could happen if we wowed the world...?

Not all of the people were wowed by Jesus, obviously. He was crucified after all. Still, there is something in Jesus’ example for us to consider implementing. People said “Wow!” or something to its equivalent, because was Jesus so special.

Guess what, you are special! Sadly, I think we forget this. I’m not writing about Jesus’ wow-factor to make you feel guilty or to discourage you, no it’s quite the opposite. I want to encourage you. I want you to rethink how you approach people (or rethink how we respond to our difficulties in front of others), and how you can lead others to a better understanding of you really are and what God is really like.

Remember: We have been raised to a new life by God, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and we are set free from sin and death! People will recognize our christianity when we live out what is within. We won’t have to “prove” our faith to them -- it will be evident. Hopefully as we face life’s challenges and sufferings people will ask, “How do you do it?” based on how we respond to our circumstances.

Life isn’t easy, and in fact for some of us it’s quite hard at times. What are you facing today, what are you going through? I can imagine it feels like you are the only one who has to deal with the problems you have, and maybe you are. This much I know, people are watching you, they are observing, and they will draw conclusions about you and your God as they watch.

We can’t expect people to react with amazement when we merely do something nice or good. Why? Simply put, because that is an expected behavior. For example, last week a cashier at the grocery store overpaid me when he gave me back my change. I mentioned he might want to recount the change as I handed him a $20 bill back. He didn’t say a word. No, he didn’t even fall to his knees asking how to find salvation. He didn’t ask me why was I so kind. If he had shortchanged me instead and I respond that politely, then he might have wondered to himself. Who knows, but I think you get the point.

I want to live my life, going forward, helping people to say “Wow!” and that might happen when I do good things. More than likely, I think it will happen as a result of how I control myself when the typical response for most people might be a display of hatred, anger, or revenge.

The world doesn’t need another Messiah, Jesus already died on a cross. The world needs more people who die to themselves daily and who reflect the image of their Risen Savior in every and all circumstances.

Until we “wow” the world on a more consistent basis, I don’t expect much to improve. I think the news will continue to be filled with mass-shootings, rampant crime, and gross inequality -- until that day comes. In the meanwhile, as I think of the potential of the wow-factor, I can’t help but think of the old saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”

Saturday, October 28, 2017

What can Pres Trump teach our churches?

Let me clarify, this piece isn’t about politics and I’m not interested in getting political. Instead, the current object lesson playing out in Washington is too valuable for us to pass up. Love him or hate him, President Trump’s administration illustrates a mental-trap many of our churches fall into. Trump was used to doing business with businessmen and he assumed that his style of leadership would automatically/seamlessly translate over into the White House. Has it?

Regardless of what he has or hasn’t accomplished in your view, Trump’s agenda faces challenges. Why? It’s my opinion that Trump thought he could manage politics like he did business. Instead, it looks to me like politicians respond very differently to different methods of motivation. Elected officials might not hold the same values or feel the same pressures from certain types of leverage in the same way someone from the world of business does. And this gross misunderstanding is where we in the church can learn a valuable lesson.

By the way, the subject of President Trump is a lightning-rod issue and our nation is polarized about his position. Neither idolizing him nor demonizing him helps much, but, according to Scripture, since he is a government leader, praying for him is every believer's responsibility.

Back to my point. Unfortunately, many of our churches mistakenly think that an executive/manager who is successful in the marketplace automatically makes for a good church leader. Worse yet, our churches often adapt a worldly business model of leadership because of the influence of the folks we typically select to lead us.

You can’t “run” a church like you do a business. Well you can try, no one here can stop you.

The people with whom you worship with don’t want to be managed, they long to be led -- they deserve to be nurtured and encouraged. The mistake Trump made in thinking one type of leadership translates into all fields, is the same mistake we make when our churches gravitate towards gifted leaders who are successful in their places of work without realizing business acumen isn’t a guaranteed promise for shepherding God’s people well.

I’m not saying people in the business world are disqualified from serving and leading in our churches because of their profession. That’s not my point at all. Besides, I know really great people with business backgrounds (even a few lawyers) who are very spiritual.

I am saying churches need to be led like a church, not like a business. The church is a physical manifestation of a supernatural reality. There isn’t a Dow Jones Industrial Average influencing our quarterly decisions. The WSJ isn’t evil, but it isn’t the publication we turn to for learning about living the Christian life.

We don’t go to auto-mechanics to fix our marriages, no matter how talented they are at being problem solvers, we seek out counselors. You wouldn’t take your child to a carpenter if they needed braces for their teeth. No matter how well a poker-player can read faces, we don’t ask them to teach a classroom full of students to read. If we want people to become more Christ-like we need to find people who imitate Jesus to help us accomplish that, wherever we find them and from whatever their professional background may be. If we want our churches to thrive, we don’t need to look to a conference table half as much as we need to be gathered together around the Table.

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.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

When you grieve over a prodigal child

Have you ever been heartbroken by, or disappointed in one of your children?  Have any of your kids messed up, maybe they even embarrassed you in the process?  Did they run away, come home with an embarrassing/bizarre tattoo, experiment with drugs, stay out way too late with a boyfriend/girlfriend, wreck their car, maybe they called home for bail?  Did they ever tell you they didn’t believe in your God anymore?  

It hurts whenever our children exhibit behaviors that contradict their upbringing.  It can be devastating when a child you’ve raised pursues a divergent path.  During such dark times, it feels like the pain will never dissipate, and the future seems hard to navigate.  

One of the greatest mysteries in this life is how godly parents sometimes raise ungodly young adults.  You try your hardest, you do “everything right,” and in the end, some children reject everything you ever taught them.  It simply doesn’t make sense how some of the nicest, most faithful believers can have problems with their children.  

Nothing can be more painful for parents than watching, helplessly, as their children make choices that carry devastating consequences.  What can we do as parents when our children take a different path than the one we hoped for?  

This isn’t the time to make it about you.  If your child is on a self-destructive path, or simply slips up a little, that’s not the time to tell your child about how their actions are reflecting poorly on your reputation.  Chances are, they want to develop their own individuality/identity, and this time of acting-out reinforces they don’t care about your reputation anyway.  Besides, what are you really concerned about, in the big picture, what’s more important here, your image or their well-being?  

This isn’t a time to seclude yourself either.  Surround yourself with close friends who will support you spiritually and emotionally.  God put certain people in your life for a reason, trust in them, lean on them.  You might be surprised to find out they’ve been through some very similar situations with their own children too.  

This also isn’t the time to lock yourself in the basement until the storms of life clear up.  Go on a mini-vacation, get away for a day or two, and distance yourself from the situation so you can think clearly.  When we are anxious our ability to think rationally diminishes drastically; you need to relax and unwind so you can think logically.   

This isn’t a time to give up.  Don’t lose hope.  Keep praying.  Everyone has within themselves the potential to change.  Prov 22:6 isn’t a promise that your kids will never make mistakes or they will always be faithful, but it is a truism that when you lay the right foundation your kids will have a more stable future and a heritage to fall back on when they need it most, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

This isn’t a time to build walls or lock the door.  Don’t punish them forever.  Reality and consequences can often be punishment enough.  Will you need boundaries?  You’ll know, or your close friend will tell you.  The point here is trust in your children, that they can “come to their senses.”  Keep a lifeline open so when the time is right, you can welcome your prodigal home.

This is a time to reflect on your relationship with God.  Think about how you have, in your own ways and in other times, let Him down. No, I’m not talking about your parenting style, I’m not saying you failed as a parent and this is why your kids messed up.  I’m talking about you when you blew it in general.  How did you want Him to respond when you sinned, when you rebelled against His will, when you disappointed God?  You wanted grace.  You wanted redemption.  You wanted His acceptance and unconditional love -- therefore give away to others what you wanted most and let God be your example, not your excuse.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The unforeseen problem when states offer free college tution

I think the free two-year college tuition Tennessee offers has been great, in fact one of our sons is currently benefiting from it.  Now, Tennessee is offering free two-year tuition to adults as well, which I think is wonderful too.  Recently I heard New York is offering free four year college tuition to their residents.  Personally, I have no issue with states offering free college tuition, but I see a problem just around the bend.

I'm not a Socialist, not by any stretch, but I'm glad to see the shift towards free State college coming about.  Free college really makes sense, in a society that provides K-12 education already.  The problem with free college isn't, "Where will the money come from?"  Tennessee has shown, successfully, that their lottery proceeds can be utilized quite well to cover these costs.  What could be wrong then with free college?

Again, I'm in favor of free college, such as what we have here in Tennessee, and I hope as many people as possible will take advantage of this, so this post isn't a rant against free college.  But, I do see a serious problem when higher-education is free.  Namely, we as a society will eventually devalue a college education if it's free.

Only a generation ago, you could do well supporting your family with a high school diploma, but in the last few decades, better paying jobs required a Bachelor's degree and we've seen that shift to where now often times a Graduate degree is becoming a necessity.  Making college free will only exacerbate this trend.

It's basically a supply & demand issue and a perception problem.  When more people are able to enter the workforce with college degrees, there's more competition for the same positions, thus giving employers more leverage.  And, we tend to place value not only on the education which is received in college, we also value a college education because of the cost of the education itself.  Free degrees will not carry the same clout in the minds of the masses.  Therefore, when you add these factors together, it seems like in a few years a Bachelor's degree will be viewed no differently than a high school diploma is viewed today.

I doubt I have an answer as to "now what?" or how to avoid free college from being devalued in the minds of most people.  But, I'm still in favor of states offering free tuition.

So, my suggestion to the people being blessed by free college degrees is the same advice I've given to freshman college students for years: Do well in your studies and get good grades so you can shoot for a good scholarship and make it into a Graduate program of your choice.  Effort and hard work are rewarding, and no one can take your education away from you, so soak up all of the free education you can and go out and make a difference in the world around you.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

United Airlines and our inability at Recognizing Failure For What it is

My Iphone crashed this morning after downloading the latest software update.  I can't get into the Sprint Store until 10:00 a.m. (who opens a business that late?!?!?!?), so as I look through Facebook this morning, the above meme is everywhere, I mean everywhere.  Yes this picture made me laugh, and I can appreciate the gallows's humor in it.  Still, to me, if you think this issue is about United Airlines, you are mistaken.

Okay, I'm old enough to remember when people died from the Tylenol poisonings.  I also remember the mess the Catholic church was in after the mass molestations of young boys was mainstream news.  Point being: For everyone to lay the blame of the forced removal of the Asian doctor at the feet of the entire organization of United Airlines, or for people to say they'll never fly that airline again (and I could care less what airline you choose, I don't think I've ever flown United) is ridiculous.

Let me try to say this another way, we all still take pain-relievers, even though people died taking Tylenol, and most believers still attend church even though there were sick perverted warped people preying on young boys.  Though I imagine for those young boys and their families, religion will be forever tainted.

United isn't the first and they won't be the last to have their image tarnished though an embarrassing event like this.  But I think this whole thing reflects more on us as a society than it does any single company or organization.

I think the United removal of a passenger is being way-over-exaggerated, and though it's entertaining to poke fun at the faceless corporation United, we all need to take a step back.  Stupid people make bad choices, and the employees that forcibly removed that passenger have no excuse for their actions.  They were idiotic and their actions are inexcusable, and those are the people we should focus on.  I don't even know their names, and I doubt most people do.  

I hardly think it's fair United's stock plunged 1 billion dollars over the actions of a few poorly trained employees.  I think someone should have suffered the consequences for this idiotic incident, but that would be the people the who did the removal and their immediate supervisors who trained them.  But the whole organization?  Come on!  Think about it.

I could care less if United fails over this, and I'll be laughing at the Negan memes for days to come.  But, I do care that we as a culture jump on the bandwagon that major corporations are always evil and must be to blame when things go wrong.  I say make the individuals responsible for this accountable, make them pay the consequences, and be fair to those who aren't directly involved.

Yet, in a culture that's lawsuit-happy and always looking for someone in the boardroom to lynch, this is a hard sell.  If this is where we end up, perpetually blaming the entire organization for the actions of a few, hammering those who are further up the food-chain and who had nothing to do with this, then we are misguided and we fail as a society.  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

When is it allowable for heterosexuals to reject homosexuality?

These days, there isn't a more divisive topic than homosexuality.  People are touchy about the LGBT issue, it's a lighting-rod issue no doubt.  The latest fodder for the conversation is Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," so now everyone on social media wants to know if you'll see the movie or boycott it.  Which by the way, my wife and I just saw the movie today - if you think it's a pro-gay movie, you need help.

The contemporary social gauge to measure your level of tolerance seems to be your views on homosexuality.  You are allowed to hold divergent views on almost any topic in our culture, save homosexuality.  If you claim to reject homosexuality, in most circles, you are immediately written off as a hateful, antiquated, homophobic bigot.

The amount of peer-pressure our society imposes on the masses to accept the homosexual lifestyle is immense.  I think all lifestyles that are great and correct should speak for themselves and shouldn't need to be defended.  What my views on the subject of homosexuality are, aren't important or even what I'm interested in discussing.  

What does interest me is, everyone is just expected to accept homosexuality, but no one seems to be asking the question: Do heterosexuals have the right to reject homosexuality?  Can someone who disagrees with a given lifestyle, choose to have a different view without feeling like they are going to be crucified for speaking up?

What's gone wrong in our culture when people are intimidated into silence?  If it's wrong to reject homosexuality on the grounds of intolerance, then isn't it equally nefarious to force people to acquiesce to a worldview they disagree with?  Where's the fairness that's being demanded?  This modern pendulum swing seems to be quite unfair.

I feel that the main reaction to any suggestion that homosexuality is inappropriate, from most people who embrace homosexuality, is going to be negative since it's probably being filtered through the experiences with the harsh, hateful, judgmental fundamentalists who claim to represent Christianity.  I get it, there are some nasty people who use religion like a hammer.  There are some really mean people who say some very hurtful things.

But what about people who love others, who don't want to be combative, but they simply hold different values?  Why are their voices being silenced?  Is it because some knucklehead spouted off and said something demeaning or even a whole bunch of somebodys?  Does that give anyone the right to dismiss everyone who disagrees with you?

I do think it's possible to lovingly reject a lifestyle, to keep the dialogue open, to be respectful, and to speak your mind without having to insult those who you disagree with.  And that's something that should go both ways.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sifting through the Shack

With our culture's penchant towards entertainment that's immersed in violence, greed, or perversion, there seems to be little room left at the theaters for faith-based movies.  Most faith-based movies have been prejudged as second rate, they are known for utilizing b-rated actors, and these movies are considered low-budget.  So my guess is, the Shack will have its work cut out to draw much of an audience.

We watched the screen adaptation today.  I read the book several years ago.  So yes, I'm familiar with the story.  I resisted reading the book for quite some time after it first was released, after I started it I put it down for about 6 months.  It was only at the urging of an older couple who lost their daughter to cancer when she was college age that I returned to the book.  I wasn't really looking forward to the movie, based on my perception of most faith-based movies.  My reservations aren't theological, though I take issue with the plot.  I have a strong distaste over the use of the (implied) rape and slaughter of a preadolescence aged girl to move a plot forward.

But let's dig into the theological scandal that too many Christians seem to be offended by.   Can we portray God the Father as a black woman?  If your faith is that fragile, that you can't handle God being portrayed as a black woman, then you have deeper issues to contend with.  Most church-goers I meet have a difficult time simply articulating the doctrine of the Trinity, so it's no wonder they are upset over this notion God could be revealing Himself as a woman, a black woman "Papa," and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman...

The bigger issue that the story dredges up falls under the scope of theodicy, which is the defense of why God allows pain & suffering,  If you are turning to the Shack to find fulfilling or complete answers as to why an all-powerful & all-knowing God would allow pain and suffering to happen, you'll be sorely disappointed.  How do you explain away a grizzly torturous murder of an innocent grade schooler?  You wouldn't.   But, I don't think that's really the point the author wanted to communicate, but he did open himself up to some criticism by choosing such a graphic backdrop to his story.

Is there anything redeeming in The Shack?  Yes, absolutely, 100%!

Of course I'm going to say the book was better than the movie, that's a no-brainier.  Either way, whether you read the story or watch the movie, I see it as a positive.  Do I agree with all of the theology or propositions of the story?  It doesn't matter what I think there.  What matters is, books/movies like this get us thinking through tough questions about God, and they get us talking about what we believe with other people.

Call it a springboard or whatever you will, we need sparks like the Shack to ignite godly conversations, we need fuel for the fire, and thank God for any opportunity that comes our way to engage others in conversations that cover eternal, spiritual topics.   So I do hope you'll read the story or watch the movie, and more so, I hope you'll take the time to talk to others about it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Not everyone is smiling with you, but those who do count most

I can't believe it took me nearly 50 years to figure this out, but not everyone will celebrate your accomplishments with you.  In fact, some of the people you spend quite a lot of time with will take offense at your progress and they actually would like to hold you back.  Therefore, limit your exposure to those who don't want you to shine too brightly.

Unfortunately, not everyone is happy for you when you strive to improve yourself or your station in life, they can even get jealous or become envious.  Therefore, don't let the limitations others impose on you determine your goals, dreams, or ambitions.

Sadly, some people will distance themselves from you or become cold when you begin to advance yourself.  Not everyone thinks you should make your life better or that you should reach your goals.  Therefore, don't let others articulate for you what success is or dictate to you what's fair.

I'm blessed to enjoy the love & support of a great wife, I have the respect & encouragement of our sons, and we have some pretty solid rock'n friends who stand behind us.  Be cautious and selective with who you share life with, who you let your guard down with, and who's perspectives you embrace.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

"don't judge me" is such a cliche

In the really gripping stories, the bad guys have some secret weapon that seems to be overwhelmingly superior in strength to anything the good guys can muster, and with a bit of cunning, the enemy will surely thwart the good guys with their diabolical weapon. In these enthralling stories, the bad guys always have some powerful tool at their disposal that disables and immobilizes even the strongest hero. And while we know the good guys will win somehow, we never know how until nearly the end of the story.

How many times in your life have you had a well-intentioned conversation shut down with a simple, “Jesus said ‘Thou shalt not Judge”? It seems like “who are you to judge me” or “you christian people are so judgmental” is like Kryptonite for modern believers.

In our culture, if you feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with the direction of any conversation, simply cry out, “Don’t judge me” and like a blue-statically-fizzling-forcefield, you will be protected from a distasteful dialogue, you are instantly shielded from anything incriminating and you can go along your merry way. “Don’t judge” is your get-out-of-jail-free card, and oh, here’s your free $200 as you pass Go.

It seems like we are in quite a quandary. They have us up against the wall. Our hands seem tied. Their ace in the hole has, it seems, successfully stifled us. Who are we to judge? What gives us the right to point out the faults in others? Maybe they are right, and we should just mind our own business.

After all, didn’t Jesus clearly say, “Don’t Judge” and didn’t He say something about getting the log out of your own eye before you go fumbling around, swatting at a speck of dust in someone else’s eye? Of course He did. And isn’t it ironic that people will point to one prohibition from Jesus, that being don’t judge, to justify a lifestyle that elsewhere, had they bothered to read, Jesus would clearly denounce? Yes it is.

My goal isn’t to let anyone off the hook here; judgmental people have issues they need to deal with, and the people being “corrected” for messing up their lives have serious issues to fix too. Perhaps the missing piece for most people is the vulnerability factor. Whenever we go down the road of pointing out the faults in others, we invite in some critiquing of ourselves as well. Which after all, is not only fair, it should also be welcomed, as Proverbs 27:17 points out, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Let’s see if we can reconcile this conundrum about do we judge or do we keep our lips sealed, and let’s see if we can remain inline with the heart of Jesus along the way.

Let’s look at what Jesus actually said in Matthew 7:1-6, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

Number one, there are ways to address people who are screwing up their lives without being critical or harsh or hateful. And frankly, if someone is on the train-tracks and a train is about to run them over, we have an obligation to warn them about the direction they are headed. So, yes, just like the saying, “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” if we care about someone, sometimes we do have to interject ourselves. Remember, James writes, ” My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

Also, Jesus’ famous statement “don’t judge” comes within the context where He warns about pigs and dogs, and pearls such things, in other words He requires we make judgement calls about situations and people, without sentencing them eternally. There is a difference between judging someone and making a judgement call. Judging someone entails we know their status with God, and we are assigning them their eternal status in heaven or hell. Making a judgment call, on the other hand, is pointing out an observation on an objective fact without playing God. See the difference?

The “don’t judge me” phrase being tossed around these days forgets, we do have the obligation to discern good from evil, safe from harmful, right from wrong, and this is in the context that we need to do a little self-checking along the way. Jesus never forbids or prohibits us from stating the obvious, He simply says make sure your own lifestyle reflects someone with credibility. Be someone worth listening to. Don’t miss it, Jesus said once your log is out of the way, you’ll see clearly enough to help remove that irritating speck of sawdust from your brother’s eye.

Brother’s eye. Brother’s eye? Does this mean this passage is built on the relationships between believers, and those outside the church aren’t even at stake here? Wouldn’t that be judgmental too, though? Paul wrote in Romans 6:20, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” Yet, if someone is outside of Christ, don’t they deserve to hear about His saving grace? From Jude 1:22-23, it looks like yes, “And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Perhaps christians should be held to higher standards, but everyone deserves a shot at life.

One thing is clear here, our standards which we have for others will be held up for us to uphold. If we expect perfection from others, Jesus may just expect that out of us. Also, it seems like it’s human nature to point out other people’s mistakes while ignoring our own, this may be one of our greatest character flaws. But also notice, this whole paragraph requires we recognize the significance of sins, i.e., lesser & greater wrongs summed up as sawdust & logs. And, we need to be cautious with whom we distribute holiness to and with whom we share our jewels with. Events could turn bad quickly, and we could be endangered instantaneously if we are unable to make a judgement call.

So, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be a christian who lives like a hypocrite and call out the sins in others, and, you also can’t live like a reprobate pagan and quote Jesus only on the “don’t you judge me” verse. If you want to help others live holier lives, set the example. If you want to use Jesus’ phrase about not judging others, you need to accept the rest of His teachings as well, which call us to submit to Him and live lives of holiness.

The reality of it is, there are consequences from our actions and attitudes. When we live in sinful lifestyles and when we are judgmental, we suffer and other people suffer. I could be wrong, but I think Jesus teaches in this passage that being judgmental might just forfeit our own salvation. I doubt I’m wrong about this, but I’m fairly certain that Jesus teaches several times in the Gospels sin is bad because sin separates us from the Father.

Everyone seems to think Jesus will condone whatever course of action they see fit, at the time. Would Jesus condemn a critical person’s judging of another? Yes, absolutely. Would Jesus let the one being judged off of the hook because they got “judged” by some bible-thumper? Hardly.

Maybe, if we showed more respect, lived lives that displayed unconditional love, and freely offered forgiveness, maybe people would ask us for advice or help more often? And, maybe if we didn’t make stupid choices, people wouldn’t feel obligated to point out our mistakes. Ouch.

Consistency, that’s usually what’s missing whenever we take the words of Jesus out of context and seek license to live however we want or treat others however we want. Seek for better consistency, and maybe you’ll gain the credibility you desire. I’m pretty sure consistency is the way we disarm the evil one’s secret weapon. Now, do we cut the blue wire or the red wire…?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What doesn't add up about distrusting modern day journalism

I'm a recovering News Junkie.  When I fall off of the wagon, it gets intense.  I'll listen to NPR all morning, watch Fox news all night, and read the Washington Post and New York Times online throughout the day.  Oh yeah, I'll also check my BBC and AP apps and twitter feeds too.  My family knows when I binge on the news.  It gets ugly when I neglect the world around me to catch up on the world.

Who do you turn to for news, where do you turn?  Newspapers, cable TV, radio, internet, this list goes on.  Chances are, there are more news outlets you avoid than ones you feel you can trust.

Over the last few years, the biases of many major news outlets have become so crystallized that they overtly share their political leanings quite freely.  The corollary to this is, many Americans now judge the reliability or trustworthiness of their colleagues and friends, based on what news source their acquaintances consume.

Haven't you ever been suspicious of someone simply based on their favorite choice of news?  It's nearly impossible not to fall into this divisive trap.

It's not that reporters and commentators have gotten lazy.  The entire "information production" is charged with energy and it's clear there is a lot of effort poured into the pyrotechnics of delivering the news these days.  There's something far more sinister afoot regarding the way our news is being distilled.

Mainstream journalists have gotten away from presenting simple facts, and they have mastered entertaining us with their prejudices and opinions.  We have a place in our culture for news sources to spread opinions, it's called the column.  Columnists are paid to share their opinions about current events, even editors have their own page.  Talkingheads on TV have their monologues too.  There's nothing wrong with this, what is disturbing is when "news" is reported as news but it's clearly sharing a company's policy preferences or biases.

Why do we distrust the majority of the news outlets?  Simply put, they all seem to break the cardinal rule of journalism, i.e., simply report the facts and leave your opinions out of it.  Instead, it seems like news sources want to shape the story, and then shape their audience's perspectives.

It is almost as if news companies have decided to take it upon themselves to shape our minds, and to shape culture and society itself.  Here's where it gets interesting to me...

It's interesting being in a relativistic culture that says, "What's true for you isn't true for me" that people crave and even demand that truth and fact be reported, and these same people become outraged when a news sources slanders objectivity.  Now, we are cynical and jaded.  We don't trust anyone or anything, yet.

And maybe the larger question remains, why do we continue to tolerate or pay attention to news sources which we by & large mostly distrust?  It just doesn't add up, unless we are the lazy ones.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Are we reaping the fruits of an embittered and estranged culture?

I’m being vulnerable here -- I’m really struggling with our culture’s current milieu. Basically, lately, I’m feeling spiritually exhausted by our extremely divisive circumstances. I think our actions, attitudes, and what we are doing to ourselves collectively, is taking it’s toll on us.

We’ve entered an emotionally dark and cynical cycle. We are distancing ourselves from people we disagree with and we’re losing our ability to dialogue. It’s hard to find peaceful examples of people offering respect and tolerance to others who happen to think differently.

My observation is, we are hatefully funneling people into “silos” as we easily jettison them, casting them into opposing camps and applying derogatory categories to people with opposing ideologies. Just like strip-mining leaves a barren landscape in its wake, and just like harvesting grain leaves a field full of empty stalks, America is truly at risk of looking far different than any of us dreamed of or wished for because of our major disdain for people who aren’t “just like us.”

Lately, our polarized nation has been castigating and hurling insults across political party-lines and across our liberal-conservative spectrum. It seems like we can’t find any middle ground anywhere in our country, and everyone labels everyone else as a threat or an enemy.

This world is draining us of our compassion and joy whenever we find ourselves positioning people as winners and losers, or, when it comes down to an “us versus them” mentality. As good as many people are in the world around us, and with the many blessings we experience, there is still a great amount of evil and suffering we are exposed to, and sadly many Christians are adding to the vitriol too. Just check in on social media if you doubt that last sentence.

We cannot sustain this hatred and animosity forever; something has to give. What will give first? More than likely, our faith. Faith can survive persecution, pain, and destitute times. But faith can’t endure for long when it’s being poisoned or when it’s not being fed and nurtured. These are toxic times. We are in a spiritual famine.

Our capacity for faith is like a sieve, therefore, our faith “reservoir” needs to be replenished often. For example, simply participating in a worship service or two every year (like only going to church at Christmas & Easter) isn’t sufficient for sustaining spiritual growth. We need to pray consistently, sing often, share in the Table together as we take the bread and the cup continually, etc.

The difficulty is, anything we do repetitively/habitually has the danger of becoming a mindless act and we tend to go into autopilot mode. Or worse, mandating that people attend services every time the doors are open, becomes deadly and legalistic. Yet, the repetition of all things spiritual is what we need most when the world changes all around us, albeit with balance.

Here’s where it gets difficult, because we have a situation of sorts that supersedes all of the anger and slander our culture is propagating. We, as believers, seem to have grown apathetic and we need to grow spiritually, particularly if we are going to be a beacon of hope to a lost world. So, it looks like we need more maturity. How do we do this? How do we develop further as followers of Christ?

We need to be challenged. But we resent being told what to do, and we resist being challenged.

The Church is a multifaceted, supernatural miracle, it is God’s chosen people, His bride, His redeemed flock. God gives us the church to shape us, encourage us, bless us, and also to stretch us, to wake us up, to help us see the eternal. Sadly, what happens when a church begins to challenge us to see the world through a different lens, we balk and get offended and we, like an ill mannered rebellious child, we pout. Therefore, the very avenue or channel that helps us grow in our time of need is shunned.

Here’s where we in the church kind of fumble things. We don’t have a great track record at motivating people gracefully; we tend to shoot our wounded. Part of the problem is, many churches forget that contending for the faith doesn’t mean being contentious. We don’t need to be mean, combative, negative, or sour to get our message across. You know, we don’t have to be hateful to spread the message of love.

These truly are desperate times. You might be thinking therefore, maybe we need to be more aggressive, and if we offend someone, well then, the ends justify the means. After all, didn’t Jesus offend people? And, isn’t it true, there’s no sugarcoating some truths, and handholding only goes so far. My dear friend Bruce once shared a quote with me which I’d like to pass on to you, “Jesus offended the mind, in order to reveal the heart.”

Jesus wasn’t cavalier when dealing with with people’s hearts, and carrying a Bible doesn’t give us licence to run roughshod over the people we disagree with. Jesus was known to embrace the whores and thugs while simultaneously chastising the religious crowds filled with self-righteous people who thought they knew their Bibles. Which brings me to my point, let’s not ever hammer people with our Bibles. Consider John 5:39-40, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life." If the doctrine you follow isn’t life-giving, or if your Biblical stance doesn’t elevate love and help draw people to Jesus, you need to rethink your theology.

May we hold to the integrity of the Scriptures, while humbly approaching people we aren’t aligned with, with the goal of unity, peace, and love for everyone. Go out of your way to let the Bible shape you and let God’s Holy Spirit guide you as you let down your guard and let other people into your circle.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Do you really know how to treat refugees? Let me guess, you used the Bible to support your views

Our government's recent immigration ban sent shockwaves across the globe and it has polarized an already divided nation.  As a result, many people are citing Scripture on how we should treat refugees. The reality is, we need to be more careful when we try to use the Bible to support our contemporary political stances.  The politics of Ancient Israel and those of the Greco Roman world, bear little resemblance to our American Republic.   

Without understanding the historical and political context of any passage of Scripture, we risk misrepresenting the original idea of the text.  Here’s where it gets dicey, especially since it’s nearly impossible to use logic and reason when dealing with emotional circumstances.  The Bible, especially the Old Testament, wasn’t penned in a democratic culture.  The Old Testament was delivered during a Theocracy, and the New Testament was written under the rule of emperors.  

It’s a poor student of the Word who views ancient passages through the filter of their contemporary culture, we are called to do just the opposite.  We must filter our modern day life through the lens of the Scriptures.  Bridging the two worlds together is possible, but it comes with more than a little effort.  

Another problem, perhaps even a greater issues, is the way some people cherry pick passages of the Bible to support their views on any given stance.  So, for example, when people quote from the book of Leviticus to support the idea that we should offer all refugees a special treatment, it’s an interpretive mistake to not also realize two important facts.  There was a specific context that made sense to the Israelites, a personal experience which they understood, since they once were refugees, and secondly, their borders weren’t fully established yet.  They would be expanding their borders, the Israelites were entering the process of acquiring more land while forcefully expelling six particular nations, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.  

Why would God command the Israelites to remove these six nations from the soon to be inherited Promised Land?  Those six nations were ruthless, violent, dangerous, and pagan people who would harm the Israelites in many ways.  Destroy those seven nations and love the sojourner were commands that were given simultaneously to the ancient nation of Israel, like a two-sided coin.  It’s disingenuous to only polish one half of that coin.  

Back to Leviticus, especially Lev 19:33-34. “33 When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.34 You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”  This is pretty cut and dry.  Be kind to the people passing through your country, love those who are displaced or relocating.  But just a few verses before this passage in Lev 19:28, the Israelites are prohibited from getting tattoos.  And in the next chapter, Lev 20:10, people who commit adultery are to be put to death.  Why would we, culturally, pick one part over the others to obey?   

Something else to consider.  The New Testament, which was written under the reign of dictators and emperors, has specific guidelines for believers when it comes to submitting to their government, see the first part of Romans chap 13 for example.  Our government has well established laws on establishing citizenship.  There are real established borders.  We need to respect these laws, and we should probably expect people who want to join us to respect these principles as well. But are our laws fair?

The Bible isn’t merely filled with warm fuzzy affirmations of do-gooding, it’s complex and it’s easily used to justify any stance we want to take, when we don’t take the time and exert the effort to understand it.  Nearly 100% of the Old Testament commands on how to treat refugees are tied to the principle, “You know what it felt like.” Read them and see if each of the passages also remind the Israelites of their painful past.  

But what about the general command to love our neighbors as ourselves?  I can't argue with that. But what is America’s track record of showing compassion for indigenous tribes, of taking care of our elderly, of housing our homeless, and protecting abused peoples already?  

By this point, you might be wondering about my views on the current refugee crisis.  It doesn’t matter what I think about how we should treat refugees if I cherry pick which subcultures I want to defend.  I think it’s a huge mistake, attempting to apply the doctrine of Love only when it’s popular, defiant, or hip, while we continually neglect tons of people who are already in need.    

If that didn't make sense, watch this and maybe you'll get the point: