A Call For Cooler Heads And Broken Hearts

I just read a paragraph from a respected political commentator that startled me.

I might as well plant my flag in the ground on this point. I will actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other. The rhetoric is so overblown, so heated, and so believed by a bunch of people who should know better.

It startled me because he may well be right. Listening to the way people talk these days and watching how they respond to tragedy leaves me no reason to believe that this was mere sensationalism. That’s the startling part.

Here’s the sad part.

The church is supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be salt and light. We find our identity in Christ, not a statue, a flag, a color, or a president. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten all of that.

We don’t care about the truth anymore. We just care about what we want to be true. On social media, some of the biggest spreaders of fake news are Christians. You know, the ones who belong to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And it’s all in an effort to stick it to the biased media.

Here’s the thing. Everyone is biased. MSNBC is biased. Sean Hannity and Fox News are biased. The guy sitting in his mother’s basement in Bulgaria making up those fake news stories that so many Christians share is biased. I am biased. You are biased. That’s why we need discernment. Without it, we just stick to hearing what we want to hear and reinforcing stereotypes. With it, we can actually look and act different in an angry world.

It appears that many in the church have settled for life without discernment.

This anger is on both sides of the political aisle. And on both sides of the political aisle, the hypocrisy runs deep too. Conservatives use words like snowflakes when describing the students who walked out on Mike Pence, forgetting that just days before the election there were several conservative, middle-aged snowflakes who promised to march on the streets with guns if Donald Trump was not elected.

Liberals all of a sudden care about journalistic integrity now that an easy target is in the White House. With the exception of Jake Tapper, no one at CNN seemed too concerned when President Obama threatened the media and targeted citizens with the IRS.

Liberals love to talk about resisting the power while at the same time gladly taking handouts from that very same power and laying down and rolling over when it’s their guy in power. Conservatives ramble on and on about respecting the office of the presidency now that a self-identifying conservative is in power. However, I lost count of how many memes I saw over the past eight years comparing the Obama’s to Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.

Blindly identifying with a political party makes good men into hypocrites. Identifying with Christ actually makes a difference.

In our own country, armed guards are patrolling city streets while people remove statues. It matters not to me what you feel about Lincoln, General Lee or the Civil War. Here’s what really matters. What is your neighbor thinking? As a follower of Christ, I am called to love my neighbor before I’m called to love a flag, whether it be confederate or American, or a statue, whether it be Jefferson, Lee or Lincoln.

One day we will stand before God to give an account for our lives. In spite of what you may have read in some whitewashed, Americanized study Bible, you will not be asked your opinion of a statue or a flag. But your love for neighbor will come into play.

When the black kid across town got shot and killed, did you write him off as just another thug or did you seek to minister to a family and a community that you were already engaging long before tragedy struck?

When the gay activists mocked the God of the Bible, did you hate her as if she were your enemy or did you hate what the real enemy was doing to her and pray for her eyes to be opened?

Did you go on long rants online about justice in regards to the president and the FBI but ignore lesser reported miscarriages of justice in your own community and workplace?

Did you bend down to help the least of these or did you step up on them to promote your own brand?

Were you longing for the Kingdom of God or were the kingdoms of this world enough for you?

Did you care more about the speck in your neighbor’s eye than you did the plywood in your own eye?

That’s what Jesus really cares about.

It’s just a shame that the church doesn’t seem to share in his concern.

I’ve spent most of my life in the church. I’ve heard a lot of preacher types talk about what needs to be done to save this country. It started with rock music.

“We need to get rid of this rock and roll music if we want to save this country.”

Eventually they moved on to politics.

“We need to elect this one and get this one out if we want to save our country.”

All the while the real problem was neglected.

I don’t know anything about fixing our country again. That’s too complex for me. But I can tell you how we can fix the church. And believe me, that’s a big need.

The church needs to repent.

We need to repent for abandoning truth for what feels or sounds right.

We need to repent for rejoicing over those who weep and making distinctions among ourselves by being judges with evil thoughts (Romans 12:15; James 2:4).

We need to repent for placing our identity in a president, whatever party he or she may belong to, instead of a King.

Everyone is angry. Even the church. And for all the wrong reasons.

We must be different.

We must be the ones with cooler heads.

We must be the ones with repentant hearts.

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17 (ESV)

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A Political Warning For The Church

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There are a few people in my church who will be voting for Hillary Clinton. There are more who will vote for Donald Trump. And then there’s me. I’ll find someone else to vote for because I don’t like either candidate.

But I love the people in my church, regardless of who they’re voting for.

We really need to be careful. This election year has been more intense than any I have ever seen. The country is divided. It’s been divided for a while but the divisions are becoming more and more obvious. And if we don’t watch out, those divisions will find their way into our churches.

Two emotions seem to rule our political age. They are anger and worry. People are angry with the way that politicians are representing them. And for good reason. But inevitably, that anger toward a broken system usually redirects itself toward other people. We’re not just angry at Washington D.C. We’re angry with one another.

And we’re afraid. Some are afraid of what might happen if Hillary is elected and rules the country with her progressive agenda. Others fear the chaos of a nation led by President Trump.

With that in mind, the words Paul wrote to the Philippian church two thousand years ago seem like they were written this morning.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Philippians 4:2 (ESV)

Some issue had divided these two Christian women. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t simply tell them to figure out how to get along. And he doesn’t tell them to find some common interest that they can agree on. If he were writing it today, Paul wouldn’t tell these women to vote for the same person. Instead, he tells them to agree, “in the Lord.”

Everyone in our churches won’t vote the same. There will be people who have different opinions on education, state politics and who the next president should be. And not everyone will agree with the pastor’s political views. We shouldn’t want that. An assembly where everyone shares the same views on every single cultural issue is more like a cult than a unified body.

So the source of our unity will not be our politics. For the church, Christ is what binds us together. At the appropriate times, we can have discussions on school choice and Hillary and Donald. And we can agree to disagree. But we must always find agreement in the reality that Jesus Christ is the crucified and living God who died for the sins of his people and is coming again.

There’s another “in the Lord” phrase in this passage.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (ESV)

The answer to your fear of Hillary is not found in Donald Trump. Your worries over a Trump presidency will not ultimately be relieved by a Clinton presidency. Yep, you guessed it. The remedy to our fears are found, “in the Lord.”

When we place our identity in a political party or candidate, consuming fear is a natural result. But when we realize that as believers our identity is found in Christ, we really start to respond to scary situations differently.

Instead of doubting God’s sovereign control, we worship him (Philippians 4:4).

Instead of lashing out at others, we treat them with grace and love, knowing that the Lord is always near (Philippians 4:5).

And rather than allowing ourselves to become consumed with fear, we take our concerns to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6).

That’s when we experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).

In just under a month, we will elect a new president. That new president will have a lot of power. But the next president of the United States will not have the power to heal fractured relationships. And that president will not have the power to bring genuine peace to our hearts and minds.

So, no matter our political differences, let’s remember to love each other. And let’s not believe those who profit from preaching a gospel of fear. Let’s not look to Hillary or Donald to give us what can only be found in the Lord.

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Milwaukee Foolishness Or Why We Need The Police

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The absolute worst answer to the problem of racism in our country is more racism.

The most foolish remedy to a corrupt government is no government at all.

And yet, we’re seeing both of those things in Milwaukee right now. Yes, I realize that the rioters on YouTube and cable news don’t represent everyone in Milwaukee but it would be foolish to ignore them.

While we were all busy watching Bolt and Phelps dominate the Olympics, they were cursing at police officers, lighting gas stations on fire and just praying for a member of law enforcement to lose his cool. They were saying how they refused to live with white people. They were threatening to slice open the heads of police officers. They were mocking black police officers. They were calling on people to stop burning down the city and take the violence to the suburbs instead. How noble.

Martin Luther King went to jail. Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat. Rioters in Milwaukee are busting the windows out of police cars. Something has changed.

In much of the footage I saw from the weekend in Milwaukee, protesters were chanting the title of that old N.W.A. song. I’ll spare you the title. Just know that it’s a colorful way of expressing hatred of the police. As the crowd kept chanting, the line of police officers kept backing up. They stood arm in arm, absorbing the verbal assaults of the mob. At the command of their leader, the police fell back a few feet. And later, a few feet more. Finally, they climbed in their vans and left.

The crowd cheered.

They had finally gotten their way.

But is that really what they want?

True, none of us wants the local law enforcement setting up shop in our home. But neither do we want them packing up and moving out. It might make for a catchy song but it’s no way to live.

Here’s the reality that few people fail to recognize. There is no such thing as anarchy. There will always be government. It might be organized or it might be chaotic. It might be civil or it might be corrupt. But it will always be.

So the angry masses will never get their way. Sure, they might get their local police to leave the neighborhood. But those law men will only be replaced by lawless men who will demand the same authority as those before them only without any system of accountability. In Rwanda in the mid-1990s, the Hutus and the Tutsis couldn’t put their hostilities with one another to rest. As a result, the government collapsed. What followed wasn’t a group of people who promised to be nice to each other until things got back in order at the capital building. The result was genocide at the hands of local warlords. There is no such thing as anarchy.

There are others who would like to see the federal government become more involved in local police matters. If you think your city’s police department has problems, just wait until they have to start taking orders from Washington D.C.

Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to take things on a case by case basis in this country. When one black kid does something foolish, we want to blame his entire race. When one cop does something evil, rather than addressing that specific incident, we’d rather burn the whole system down. The race problems in the country require a surgeon’s precision. We have settled for a rioter’s brick. The folks at CNN, by the way, prefer the rioters brick. It does wonders for their ratings until the next plane disappears.

A free society depends on a responsible people. When a member of the police department steps out of line, the citizens can and should speak up. But they must speak carefully. They must, as the Bible says, be angry without sin (Ephesians 4:26). Perhaps that’s too much to ask for a society that has long since abandoned God. At the very least, they must realize that a properly functioning government is a gift (Romans 13:1-7). There are plenty of good police officers. And your neighborhood needs them.

So the next time you feel inclined to join in singing the lyrics to that N.W.A. song about the police, or worse, acting them out, think twice.

You just might get what you want.

And that’s really the last thing you want.

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When Disaster Strikes

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Don’t get me wrong.

I’m not the type to blame Hurricane Katrina on the sins of any particular group of people. I don’t go speaking for God whenever there is some calamity. “This is God’s punishment for…” You get the picture.

If some hurricane in some far away city is God’s punishment for sin, then we better be ready in our own cities.

That’s the reason why I’m writing this.

Not every tragedy is God’s punishment for something. But sometimes it is. And if we’ve ever done anything in this country to deserve God’s punishment, it is the killing of babies. I don’t know if disaster will strike us anytime soon. I haven’t received a special word from the Lord. All I know is that if God does decide to punish this country, he has every right to do so.

When something bad happens, skeptics like to use it as ammo against Christians.

Where was your good and loving and all powerful God when that daycare caught on fire and all of those kids died?

Where was your holy God when that hurricane wiped out the lower half of Mississippi?

So is your God weak or did he just not care enough to stop that terrorist attack?

Be ready for questions like those when disaster strikes. Be ready to ask a few questions of your own.

Where was your sense of justice for small children when Planned Parenthood was delivering them alive and pulling out their brains?

Were you just too busy or did you just not care that millions of babies were put to death in this country while our leaders threw compliments and money at Planned Parenthood?

I pray for God to have mercy on us. But at the same time, I know that he is a just God. He is not apathetic or passive to the murder of people he created in his image. He has punished nations, even his own chosen nation, for sins before. We would be naive to believe that ours will be any different.

God destroyed Sodom and Gommorrah for their sins (Genesis 19:23-29).

It was the sins of God’s own people that caused them to lose the land that he had given to them and to live instead as slaves in a foreign land (Daniel 1:1-7).

Much later, God allowed Jerusalem, the holy city, to fall again.

God didn’t do these things because he has a short temper or because he is evil. He did them because he hates sin. And, contrary to public opinion, hatred of evil and love for what is good do go together. If you don’t believe me, watch how a loving mother acts when she sees an adult assault her small child. Are you prepared to call her unloving for pouring out her wrath on the man who is hurting her child?

The next time disaster strikes, there will be many who use it as an opportunity to chip away at God’s love, power and goodness. In reality, it could be that the disaster is simply his display of all three things, namely his love for the people he created in his image, his power over evil and his goodness to those who obey and love him.

The real disaster has already struck. For some 50 years now in this country, we have sanctioned the sacrifice of children to the gods of sex, comfort, money and power. That’s the disaster. If God chooses to shower our cities with sulfur and fire, he will be just in doing so.

Maybe he will do it while you read this.

Or maybe his mercy and patience will last even longer than it already has.

But we must be careful. While God’s holiness, goodness and love are limitless, his mercy and his patience are not. They do run out. And before they do, we must pay attention to the words of Jesus.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-5 (ESV)

Repent.

Or perish.

Those are our options.

I pray that, before the next disaster strikes, our leaders would follow the example of the King of Nineveh.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Jonah 3:6-9 (ESV)

Who knows?

God may have mercy on us so that we do not perish.

Or he may just send disaster our way.

If he does, and you are tempted to wonder why, look no further than the remains of the babies we have sacrificed to our false gods.

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A Time To Be Silent

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If I published every one of my opinions, my Facebook account would be shut down and I would be taking classes at some government sanctioned reeducation center with barbed wire on the fences.

There is a time to speak up. There is a time to share your opinion. There is a time to boldly proclaim the truth. There is a time to call a wrong what it is. There is a time to point out contradictions and corruptions. Just look outside. The opportunities to speak up are limitless. If you haven’t found anything yet, the government funded Planned Parenthood selling body parts from dead babies is a good place to start. There are plenty of times to speak and speak loudly.

But there is also a time to be silent.

A time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:7 (ESV)

The time to be silent can come even when you’re right.

It can come when those with differing opinions are making no sense at all.

It can come when the clever little thoughts inside of your head would probably shut everyone else up and expose their assumed intellectualism for the foolishness that it is.

There are things worth dying for. There are things worth speaking up for. But there are also things worth shutting up for.

Silence doesn’t always mean that you are sacrificing truth for so-called unity. It doesn’t always mean that you are a coward. Sometimes it means that your love for others outweighs your desire to prove them wrong on some secondary issue.

Words and opinions are powerful. For opinionated loud-mouths like me, it can get you a lot of attention on social media. And it can get your blog post a lot of views. But what does it profit a man if he gains the whole Internet and loses his soul (Mark 8:36)? Or the soul of the guy on the other side of the debate?

It is possible for you to win the argument and still lose. This is especially true of Christians. We can be right about a whole host of issues from the guy we voted for to the team we cheer for while at the same time being so obnoxious and arrogant about our rightness that we function more like the kid with his laser pointer directed toward the screen in the dark theater than the light that Jesus called us to be.

Debate is good. It’s part of what makes our country great. And again, there are hundreds of issues in our world where Christians should share, not just their opinion, but what the Bible says. By all means, we are to speak up.

But there are other issues that the Bible has not even come close to addressing that even good Jesus-loving Christians disagree on. Sure, these issues are important. They matter. But a lot of them will get along just fine without our voice. But if we feel the need to speak loudly on every single issue, we will be less likely to be heard when it really is time to speak up.

I’m writing this to myself. Over the past few weeks, I’ve written and deleted scores of tweets and blog posts in my head. My anger and disgust were pounding away at the invisible keyboard in my brain. The Holy Spirit kept hitting the delete button.

There are a lot of issues that I would call secondary. Who has the better team? Who would make the better president? And on and on. And it’s certainly okay to discuss these things. But as we discuss, we should be willing to walk away without having the last word. We should be more eager to see the man on the other side of our opinion remain in tact than we are with proving him wrong.

Think of how this would change the divisiveness in our country.

What would it look like if more of us said to ourselves, “Wow! That’s really not my thing but I’ll just stay quiet and keep scrolling through my news feed.” Or what if more of us said something like this? “Man, I hate that place. But the Internet doesn’t need to know about it. I’ll just stay away and stay quiet.”

Your Facebook status WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS and ending with, “Just sayin'” probably won’t change the actual issue at hand. But it will change some of your relationships. And it will change the way that others view you and the gospel you represent. And that change won’t be good.

You might need to take a social media break or just hide a few friends who have a way of setting you off.

Truth matters. Please don’t misunderstand that. I’ll say it again. There are tons of occasions for us to speak up and let our voices be heard, even if people don’t like what we say. But there are also plenty of opportunities for us to stay quiet. For Christians, the primary objectives of both our silence and our speaking up are the same.

The glory of God.

Sometimes we glorify him with a microphone and a stage and 10,000 followers. Sometimes we glorify him while biting our tongue, counting to ten and walking away.

But we never glorify him when we love being heard more than we love our neighbor.

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How To Provoke Your Kids

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Kids have a way of making their parents feel discouraged and even angry. Sadly, sometimes parents return the favor.

There are a couple of occasions in the Bible where fathers are specifically charged to not provoke their children. In Colossians 3:21, Paul says that a father’s provoking can leave his child feeling discouraged. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul again tells fathers not to provoke their children, this time saying that such actions lead to anger.

So what are those actions? What are some things that fathers do that could lead to their children becoming angry and discouraged? For a quick answer, just go to Wal-Mart. Kids are always provoking and being provoked at that place. But if you haven’t got the time or the nerve for that, just read these warnings.

1. Fathers provoke their children to anger and discouragement by being absent.

This doesn’t just mean divorce. Father are often cast as the bad guys in divorce. That’s not always the case. For a lot of fathers, the divorce wasn’t their choice but they still make every effort to be a dad to their children. As hard and as painful as it may be, there are ways for a father to be present when he’s not in the home.

On the other side of that, it’s possible for a father to be present in the home but absent in the life of his children. He convinces himself and at least tries to convince his wife and kids that 80 hour work weeks to “put food on the table” are more important than being around to train and instruct.

Fathers, your kids may not even know this yet but they don’t want your stuff and your “food on the table” if it means that you’re not sitting around that table to eat with them on a regular basis. Your frequently empty chair, or empty gaze as they try to talk to you, can leave them feeling discouraged, as if there is something wrong with them that is keeping them from winning your approval. Eventually, that discouragement mingles with anger as your kids realize that you are part of the problem. But hey, look on the bright side. Maybe one day they’ll make a lot of money by writing a Grammy award winning song about how much they hate you and then you won’t have to work those 80 hour weeks.

Fathers, your fully-engaged presence matters.

2. Fathers provoke their children to anger and discouragement by confusing gender lines.

There are two general ways that this happens. The most unusual instance, at least for now, is the father who assumes that his five-year-old boy needs a sex change operation because he likes to wear his mother’s shoes. Man, I wish I was making that up.

But more common is the father who constantly calls his son a sissy for not knowing how to change a fuel pump before his tenth birthday or for watching a movie about a princess. Sure, he means no harm by the name calling. It’s just his way of overcompensating for what he sees as a weakness in his son. But, as we all know, good intentions can still lead to bad results.

In this case, the bad result is a child who grows up confused about manhood and womanhood. Perhaps your child’s confusion will manifest itself in a promiscuous lifestyle. Perhaps it will show up in a belief that being a man or a woman is more about what you do to yourself or how you feel about yourself than it is about how God made you. Either way, you can count on that confusion leading to anger and discouragement.

Fathers, if you want your kids to grow up to be real men and women, it’s up to you and your wife to show them.

3. Fathers provoke their children to anger and discouragement by taking the fun out of fun.

For the healthy child, things like guitars and soccer balls are objects used for a good time and a few life lessons. But not for the provoked child. The provoked child has been told, in so many words, that the soccer ball is his ticket to a college scholarship. And those guitar lessons are to help him on his way to becoming a math genius and or rock star. For fathers who provoke their children in this way, there is no time for a summer afternoon spent doing nothing out in the backyard. There are places to go and it’s your 11-year-old’s responsibility to drive the whole family there. No pressure. Sure. Just plenty of discouragement and anger when your kid doesn’t land exactly where you wanted him to.

Fathers, remember to have fun with your kids, not at their expense.

4. Fathers provoke their children to anger and discouragement by weighing them down with spiritual expectations that even God does not require of them.

Your kid may know how to recite 12 different catechisms in Latin but it means nothing if she’s not first loving God with her total being and her neighbor as herself. If your kid has a talent for parsing Greek verbs while all of her other friends in the church nursery are tearing through diapers, that’s great. I hope she continues to do well. But if that’s not her thing, don’t panic. Even more importantly, don’t try to make it her thing. If you’re not careful, she will begin to equate rigorous academic study with devotion to Jesus as if the two cannot be separated. Eventually, when the weight gets too heavy for her to carry, she will be left with anger and discouragement. And you might not be the only one that her anger is directed toward. It could be that you are raising someone who will grow to hate God because of your ridiculous expectations. Jesus has a word for parents, or any leaders, who cause others to fall away.

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Matthew 17:1-2 (ESV)

Fathers, show your kids that Jesus isn’t just another burden but that he is the One who came to set us free from all other burdens.