Off Target: Check Your Assumptions

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Target’s recent announcement of a new transgender restroom policy has left many conservatives in an uproar. As a result of almost non-stop public debate and media coverage of announcements similar to this one as well as state laws affirming or denying the rights of trangenders to use the bathroom of their choice, there has been a flurry of people taking to social media and other online outlets to express their opinion on the matter.

Beyond the fact that many of these people seem unreasonably angry, I have been troubled by some of the false assumptions that seem to be the foundation of so much of this outrage. I am not saying that people are not entitled to their opinion, but I am saying that much of the irrational anger seems to be a result of beliefs or assumptions that just are not true. Here are some of the false assumptions that I have seen quite frequently over the last week.

  • False assumption # 1: Public restrooms are safe. One of the more common arguments I have heard is that now bathrooms aren’t safe for kids anymore. My initial reaction when I read this was disbelief. I thought, “Please tell me that these people don’t think that public restrooms just now became unsafe!” As a parent of four small children, I have never considered public restrooms safe. As far as the safety or accessibility of a restroom for my children, this policy has no bearing. I don’t care who is or isn’t allowed into the restroom, I am not assuming that my children are safe there. I have and will continue to accompany my children into the restroom and I would urge you to do the same.
  • False assumption # 2: A transgender person poses a greater threat than anyone else. There is no reason to believe that this is the case. Regardless of one’s moral opinion of their lifestyle, it is unjust to assume that a transgender person is any more likely to cause harm than any other person who enters a public restroom.
  • False assumption # 3: Predators will now have greater access to potential victims. This is one of the most ridiculous assumptions of all. It basically assumes that criminals, predators and just generally bad people are deterred by a sign or a policy. If someone is determined to do something wrong or violent, they are going to do so whether or not there are signs allowing them access.
  • False assumption # 4: Public restrooms are a right. I know that we have come to appreciate and expect that most major retailers provide public restrooms, but we can’t forget that public restrooms are a service provided by businesses for our convenience. Whether you like it or not, a business has the right to formulate their own policies. In response, of course, you aren’t obligated to use their restroom or shop at their store.
  • False assumption # 5: If I’m afraid, I can do or say whatever I want. Though most will not say they believe this, their actions betray them. I see men and women who claim to be Christians using their personal fear to justify hateful and irresponsible speech and actions. They may fear harm coming to their children or they may just fear change and those who are different than them. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not the fear is legitimate, though. Fear is not a justification for sinful behavior and it is certainly not a legitimate decision making criteria. After all, God has not given us the Spirit of fear, but of power, love and self-control. (2Timothy 1:7). I know there are some legitimate reasons to have fear, but we must not allow that fear to control us.
  • False assumption # 6: Being angry about transgenders using their preferred restroom is equal to standing up for God. This assumption pops up every time there is a social or cultural shift, most recently in regard to issues regarding the LGBT community. Basically, Christians who believe that homosexuality and transgenderism are sins also believe that it is their Christian duty to angrily lash out at everyone in a public way. I have seen Christians and even those in ministry lashing out about these social and cultural changes with the honest belief that it is pleasing to God. Your angry social media rant might make you feel better, but it is not honoring God and it is not drawing men and women to Christ. Instead, these angry rants push people away and build additional barriers that must be overcome before they will come to Christ.

As a pastor, my primary concern in writing and sharing these thoughts is the edification of the body of Christ. I believe that the best hope for our culture is for the body of Christ to step up and behave like the body of Christ. If you are troubled by the state of our culture, I would urge you to put less energy into expressing your anger and instead put your energy into personally reaching out to those who need the Savior. Pray for them, serve them, love them and even be willing to sacrifice your personal convenience for an opportunity to minister to them.

 

 

Photo by Jay Reed (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On Faith and Film

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With the recent release of Risen, Young Messiah, and God’s Not Dead 2, a great deal of attention within the evangelical community has been turned toward faith-based (Christian) movies. I myself entered the fray by sharing an article titled “I Hate Christian Movies” in which the author shared extensive criticism of the entire genre. Though – unlike the author – I don’t hate Christian movies, I did think his article raised some legitimate concerns. If nothing else, it has certainly served the purpose of causing me to formulate some thoughts of my own on the matter – thoughts which I will share in the hopes they can be of some help.

  • I really appreciate Christian movies for their attempt to provide clean entertainment. So much of what is offered as entertainment today is basically garbage – filled with a secular worldview, glamorized sin, sex, greed, and materialism. Faith-based movies provide a refreshing alternative to this constant barrage of immoral propaganda. I am grateful for entertainment that is safe to watch with my family without fear they will be exposed to something inappropriate or ungodly.
  • I also appreciate these faith-based movies for their desire to promote godly values. Most Christian films go beyond simply being “clean” or “safe” and actually attempt to share biblical morals and godly values. This is certainly admirable. In a world in which morality is laughed at and sometimes even condemned in the media and entertainment, I am thankful that there are alternatives that present godly values in a positive light and even seek to promote them as beneficial.
  • Another positive element of faith based movies is that many of them use their platform evangelistically. Regardless of any criticism that may be leveled at these Christian films, nothing should take away from their dedication to the spreading of the gospel. I am grateful to those men and women who choose to use their talents and finances to try to draw people to faith in Christ. This is the very essence of what is expected of us as Christ-followers.

Despite these appreciations for faith-based films, I also have a few concerns. Generally speaking, I don’t think these concerns outweigh the positives, but they are worth considering.

  • I am concerned that these Christian films may not present the whole picture of what it means to be a Christian. In an attempt to persuade people of their need for Christ or to normalize Christianity, faith-based films sometimes paint an unrealistically positive picture of what life as a Christian is all about. The reality is that sometimes life is harder for the Christian and sometimes bad things happen and there aren’t always happy endings. I am fearful that we may accidentally pull a spiritual “bait and switch” in which we offer a movie version of faith that doesn’t match with the realities of following Christ on a daily basis.
  • I am concerned that Christian films may actually push non-believers further from Christ by creating an adversarial environment. If we depict all Christians as nearly perfect heroes and all unbelievers as evil villains, we quickly create an “us against them” attitude that is counterproductive to our attempts to draw people to Christ.
  • I am concerned that faith-based films may cause Christians to relax their discernment because of the label. While most Christian films have a positive message, there are certainly a number of films that have been marketed to a Christian audience that are not indeed truly Christian. Be careful to use godly wisdom in regard to what you believe, even if what you are hearing or viewing has been labeled “Christian.”

Ultimately, despite my concerns, I am grateful for the variety of Christian entertainment that is so easily accessible. Indeed, I am encouraged by the very idea behind faith-based movies – Christ can redeem anything, even film entertainment, and use it for good. So much of today’s entertainment, media and art is at best worthless and at worst a tool for evil; but we don’t have to abandon it altogether. God is in the business of redemption, and he can take a medium that has promoted evil and use it to spread his message.

Not only should we not abandon the entertainment industry, I believe we should pursue it aggressively. It is good for Christians to be involved in entertainment. God is a creative God and has given us His creative nature, so we should use that for His glory in every way imaginable – including arts and entertainment. I am hopeful that as more and more Christians recognize film and entertainment as a legitimate means of ministry and education that we will see increased quality and depth to the point that we might see the manifestation of the ideals that drive these movies. In the meantime, I will continue to support those who are attempting to use film in a positive way. Even if they aren’t perfect, we should applaud anyone who makes an effort to faithfully use their gifts to bring God glory.

Choose Wisely

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Frequently my children will respond to an instruction by saying, “But I don’t want to!” To which I respond in turn: “You don’t have to want to, you just have to do it.” Similarly they will protest the food on their plate by saying “I don’t like it” and I lovingly explain, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.” My goal is certainly not to be mean to them. In fact, I respond the way that I do because I love them so much. I love them enough to try to teach them that the wisest choices in life are not always made by considering what I like or what I want.

There are many ways that this proves true in life. Think about it. You don’t always want to eat what is healthiest for you. You don’t always like what is expected of you at work. You may not even want to get up in the morning. However, when you only do what you want and avoid what you dislike, you end up unhealthy and unemployed and unhappy. It is a foolish person indeed that uses their own desires and preferences as their only criteria for decision making.

This dangerous decision making model can also be found in many churches. Instead of thinking about what is best or healthiest, those in power simply consider what they like or want. Programs, initiatives, projects, service times, music styles, etc. are all determined simply on the basis of personal preference. Many times this seems to work out for awhile because those people making the decisions happen to want good things. However, when their desires conflict with what is best or right, their desires will still win out. This leads to a pattern of bad decisions that lead to long term spiritual bad health.

In both personal and ecclesiastical life, we must consider factors beyond our personal desires and preferences. The Bible instructs each of us to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).” We are also told to “prefer one another (Romans 12:10).” When we face decisions, we can’t think only about ourselves. We must also consider the kingdom. In fact, Jesus said to seek the kingdom of God first. We must place His plans and priorities and desires above our own. This type of decision making leads to wise and healthy individuals and churches.

Don’t fall into the trap of selfish decision making. When it comes to determining how you will make decisions, be sure to choose wisely!

Don’t Be a Fool

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Fear. Paranoia. Mistrust of everyone and everything you hear and see. Overwhelming desires to seek payback. Desperate longing to survive the day without mishap. Ordinarily, these symptoms might be cause for concern, but not today. Today is April Fool’s Day and these are the normal feelings of pretty much everyone. And we like it! We laugh at things that would normally offend us and we lie with abandon for the sake of a joke. It’s no wonder that we label it a fool’s day. It is all in good fun, though, so I have no desire to play the role of the grouchy old man that has a problem with all the shenanigans. Though I have survived unscathed this year, I have certainly given some thought to the idea of foolishness and its counterpart, wisdom.

These are topics to which the Bible speaks a great deal, particularly in the book of Proverbs. To sum up the Bible’s teaching on the subject, we could say that foolishness is living life without regard for God’s truth. On the other hand, true wisdom is living and understanding life from the perspective of God’s truth. Accepting this biblically informed description of wisdom will lead us to several important conclusions.

  • There is no wisdom apart from God. He is the source and originator of all wisdom and it is futile to seek wisdom while ignoring or neglecting Him.
  • Wisdom must be sought in the Bible. If we truly desire to be wise, we must become consumed by God’s Word. It is in God’s Words that we find wisdom, not those of even the most intelligent of men.
  • Wisdom is active. It is not about amassing great knowledge or possessing unique information that others do not. Wisdom is about how you live and the choices you make. A wise person makes the choice to align their actions with the truth discovered in God’s Word.

As a result of sin, wisdom is not our default setting. Foolishness is. Unfortunately, many never learn to counteract that default setting and live their lives in a foolish manner. Fortunately for all those willing to accept it, God has offered his grace to us and will teach us His wisdom. All we have to do is admit our own folly, turn from it and seek Him. On this day where we enjoy a bit of foolish fun, make sure that you aren’t living life like a fool. I encourage you to take a moment right now to consider whether or not you are pursuing God and His wisdom. Commit to living the next moment in light of His truth. With God’s help that moment can turn into a lifetime of wise living.