Respectful Disagreement

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Anyone who pays any attention at all knows the socio-political climate has been tense lately. In the days surrounding the presidential inauguration there have been protests and controversies and celebrity statements all over the media. On social media it looked like election season again as people battled each other over who supports who. But today, this headline wins over all the others I have seen: “Man bites ear off another man during argument about Trump!” I don’t even care about politics, but I had to click that headline. The article didn’t give much more detail than that – not even who supported Trump and who opposed. Honestly, I don’t think it matters. The fact is that we have gotten crazy enough over politics that people are biting each other’s ears off! Whatever happened to reasonable disagreement? What happened to civility and respect? Have we lost our collective American minds?

I think it is high time that we stop arguing like spoiled little children who name call and bite each other and start discussing issues like adults. Regardless of your political persuasion –or even if politics isn’t your thing at all- conflict and issues can only be resolved through profitable discussion. Disagreement is inevitable, so when it happens, stay respectful. Do not name call. Do not make personal attacks. Disagreement can always be done in a kind, loving, and respectful manner. When this happens, the door is often open for genuine dialogue about real issues – and this is what has to happen. Whether it is a social issue like racial injustice or more personal issues like who’s not replacing the toilet paper roll when they finish it – problems are only resolved when the real issues are discussed.

Because of this, I want to ask all grown up Americans to stop bickering and arguing  and begin the process of healthy, respectful communication with those who hold opposing views. You can start today by offering kindness instead of cruelty and love instead of hate. With that change of perspective, go out and enter into genuine, respectful disagreements with people so that we can make this world a better place. And for heaven’s sake, don’t bite anybody!

Thoughts For My Fellow Christians on Election Day

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Today is an exciting and potentially historic day for our great nation. It is a day in which we once again have the privilege of exercising our right to vote and it is a day that many on both sides of the political aisle feel will have monumental impact on the direction of our nation. It is also a day that many believers have been anticipating with great fear and anxiety. While I have absolutely no idea what the outcome of this election will be today, I do know that God cares far more about how His people treat each other and represent Him than He does about a particular political party winning or losing. With that in mind, I have a few brief thoughts for my fellow believers that I hope will be considered on this election day.

You Are a Christian First

If you a follower of Christ, that identity supersedes all others. Before you are an American; before you are a democrat or republican, conservative or liberal; you are a Christian. You are a child of God and as such you are His representative. You a citizen of His kingdom with temporary citizenship here in this world. Your obligations are to him before they are to any political party or social cause. Many Christians are approaching this election with the claim that they are voting based on their faith and their beliefs, all the while acting in a manner that is absolutely contrary to Christian behavior. I urge you to consider not only the rightness of your stance (because you just might be right), but also the manner in which you are taking it. Christians cannot be mean-spirited, nasty, dishonest, fear mongers. It is sad to see so much hatred, ignorance and divisiveness among the body of Christ. Remember, today and every day, that if you bear the name of Christ than you must live in a way that honors him.

We Are All Americans

Somehow this particular election seems to have gotten even more divisive than usual. Those of us who are Christians must remember that while it has been a great privilege to live in a country that has largely supported our Christian values and lifestyle God has nowhere promised that it should be so. Being American is not about faith or specific political positions. In fact, the beauty of America is that we are a diverse people unified under the belief that we are all free to believe, like and live however we want. Those who stand across the political divide from you are just as American as you and likely love their nation just as much. Wherever we end up after this election, I can promise you that our nation will be much better off if we get over the “us and them” mentality that has dominated this election cycle and get back to being a unified nation of diverse beliefs and preferences.

God Is Still In Control

Regardless of who is our president or what political party is in power, God is still sovereign over this nation and His world. I want to urge my fellow believers to stop acting in fear as if God cannot handle it if certain people or parties are in power. God is in control, and the simple truth is that He might not want what you expect Him to want. There is no guarantee that he wants you to have religious liberty. There is no guarantee that He wants you to live in a nation that makes it easy to worship Him. There is no guarantee that he wants you safe or wealthy. We just don’t know. What we know is that He is in control and we must accept that His ways are not our ways. Trust Him. Rest in Him.

Prayer Is Our Weapon of Choice

With many Christians taking to social media to fight it out over their political views, I think we need to be reminded that “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(Ephesians 6:12).” The way we fight that battle is not through clever arguments or nasty rants on the internet, but by “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18).” I urge you today to be in constant, persistent, selfless prayer. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are voting and pray for your brothers and sisters around the world who never get to vote and are living in persecution for their faith. Pray for your current president as well as for the next one. Pray for your nation, communities and neighborhoods. Pray for your church family. Perhaps most importantly, pray also that God will give you a spirit that is in line with His; pray for a heart that sees this world and the people in it the way He does. Pray! Pray! Pray!

You Have Been Given Peace

Too many Christians are walking around these days worried and in a panic. They are troubled over the state of our nation and all worked up over who will be the next president. I can tell you this: if you as a believer do not have peace now, you will not have it when you get your preferred president either. That is because genuine peace cannot be dependent upon circumstances. Peace is an untroubled heart because of faith in Christ regardless of circumstances. Jesus said to His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid (John 14:27).” Peace is a gift from God, but we have to choose to experience it by trusting Him, refusing to dwell on the circumstances, and by being grateful for the blessings He has given us.

God is a Big God Who Deserves to Be Honored

My biggest concern is not for the outcome of this election, but for God to be glorified by His church regardless of what happens in the election. My heart’s greatest desire in all of this is that the church would stand up for what is right, while also acting right; that we would represent our Lord in a way that will make Him happy and not ashamed. While many people will be discussing the election and its potential outcomes and problems and so on throughout the day today, it is my desire to simply remind you that you serve a big God who is in total control. Don’t worry; don’t be afraid. In the words of Paul, “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way 2 Thessalonians 3:16).”

 

Photo By Harley Pebley (Flickr: Prayer for USA) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Game 7 by My Numbers

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Even the most disinterested of individuals is probably aware by now of some of the numbers involved in last night’s World Series Game 7. Numbers like 108 years since the Cubs last won the World Series or 174 years combined since either team had won it all. 37 years since a team had come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win. First ever leadoff homerun in a World Series game 7. 2 curses that Theo Epstein has erased. It truly was a terrific game and all the talk of numbers made me think of the numbers involved in my own personal World Series experience. So here is game 7 of the 2016 World Series by my numbers:

0 – Baseball games prior to game 7 I had watched in their entirety this season. Also, the number of times any of my children had ever shown any interest in watching a baseball game with me.

3 – The generations watching the game together around my little laptop at the kitchen table. It was fun having my Dad here for the experience.

1 – Of my children who stayed up until 1:00am watching baseball. What an awesome experience for me and my 9 year old! (Also the number of children who whined incessantly until almost the same hour because she couldn’t stay up with her brother. Also the number of children who could care less that baseball or any sport was being played and just wanted to read his book.)

4 – Innings gone by when I chose to tell my son about the curse of the billy goat. With the Cubs up 3-1 it seemed as if they had a reasonable shot at breaking that curse and I wanted him to understand the enormity of what was about to happen.

2 – The number of times I told my son during the 5th inning that he would probably have to go to bed when it was over.

5.5 – Innings passed when my son decided he felt sorry for the Indians who were down 5-1 and wanted them to win.

2 – The number of runs the Indians scored in the bottom of the 5th that had my son mocking me with goat noises.

4ish – How many times I changed my mind about sending my son to bed before the game was over.

17 (give or take) – Warnings to my son that he had better be on his best behavior the next day or he and I would both be in big trouble for him staying up so late.

3 – The number of times that I have since explained to my wife the value of a 9 year old staying up all night to make once-in-a-lifetime memories with his dad and grandpa.

1 – Great big hug I received from my son along with expressions of gratitude for letting him stay up.

0 – Regrets for the late night of baseball watching with my family.

Though I watch far less sports than I used to and have hopefully matured a bit in the way I prioritize them, I still think that moments like last night can provide a unique opportunity to bond. As parents we have a massive responsibility in the raising of our children and if we aren’t careful we can become so focused on the seriousness of this responsibility that we miss out on moments to simply enjoy our kids and let them enjoy us. We should make sure to make time for constructive and meaningful fun together with our children. These opportunities can provide a foundation upon which future opportunities for instruction and character development can be built. If you don’t believe me, just consider the numbers!

Encouragement for the Election Anxious

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With the presidential election less than a week away, many Christians and conservatives are frustrated by their options and are planning to either vote for a candidate they do not believe in or just stay home on election day. These decisions in themselves are very personal and really are of no concern to me. However, what does concern me is that the frustration involved in this decision seems to be fueling an ever increasing sense of despair and desperation from many Christians.

Do Not Be Afraid!

Even beyond frustration, there seems to be a significant amount of fear over the outcome of this election. This is a real problem! Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the election and regardless of the potential consequences, there is absolutely no reason for the Christian to fear. Fear is really nothing more than doubt that God can handle a situation and since that is never a possibility there is no legitimate reason to fear. After all, God is not surprised by world events nor does anything take place apart from His sovereign will. Furthermore, nothing can harm us unless God allows it and He promises to protect us from all that is not in our ultimate good. Even in regard to government, it is He who appoints kings and world leaders. We must rest in the knowledge that He is in full control. Consider His Words to Isaiah and know that they are as true now as they were then: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Hope in God Alone

One of the biggest reasons for all the fear and anxiety is that American Christians long ago began to place their hope in a nation and a government rather than in God alone. Instead of being Christian first, we identified as American. Instead of trusting God to care for us, we trusted a government to provide and protect. While it is absolutely appropriate and important to appreciate the great nation that God has gifted us with, we must never place our hope in that nation. As the psalmist said, “The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue (Psalm 33:16-17).” No nation can defend us; no government can deliver us; no political system can provide for our truest needs; and no human leader can save us. Rather, it is God that delivers us and protects us and “He is our help and shield (Psalm 33:19-20).” It is He that determines our future, not an election. We must hope in Him rather than in a political system that at its best is inferior to Him and at its worst is corrupt and failing.

Remember Your True Home

No nation, no matter how great, should have the sole allegiance of the Christian. Though that reality may strike a blow to the blind patriotism that many evangelicals have embraced, it is nonetheless true that Christians owe their allegiance to a heavenly kingdom; this world is not our home. While it is proper and just to be good citizens of this kingdom, it cannot become our primary focus – our home. Our freedoms, comforts, laws, preferences and finances, and even safety should be no more than minor considerations to the believer whose heart is firmly fixed on the heavenly kingdom. Our true home is in heaven and our purpose in life is not to make a nice comfortable home here. Our purpose is to spread the gospel to all people and advance the cause of the heavenly kingdom during our temporary residency in this earthly one. We must always be mindful of our true home. In the words of a song by Building 429, “All I know is I’m not home yet. This is not where I belong. Take this world and give me Jesus, this is not where I belong.”

Stay Encouraged

For a genuine believer, there is plenty of reason to be encouraged despite all that is taking place in the world around us. We have nothing to fear with a sovereign God at the helm and a home in heaven waiting for us. Now is not the time to doubt, but to take heart and to be bold. No matter how the election turns out and regardless of the tremendous cultural shift in our nation, “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” No need to worry or be anxious because God’s got this. You need only to stay faithful, stay focused and keep looking up.

Vote Biblically

While temperatures are cooling off around the country, political drama is steadily rising in anticipation of Election Day just around the corner. With another presidential debate in the books and less than 30 days until the big day, many voters still find themselves undecided if not outright conflicted over the choice that is facing them. Certainly there are some on both sides of the political aisle who are pleased with their party’s mainstream candidate and are excited to cast a vote in their favor. Likewise, there are some who don’t really care about the individual candidate, but are merely determined to cast their vote for the party of their preference. However, in this election perhaps more than any other, I sense that there are people with genuine interest in improving their world through the political system who feel absolutely confused and overwhelmed by the process of determining who to vote for.

It is to this group that I would like to offer a bit of guidance. I have no desire to tell you who specifically to vote for nor do I have any particular interest in changing the mind of a determined voter. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not even close to a political expert. In fact, I have very little interest in politics. What I do care about, however, is people; and right now I see many of my fellow believers in Jesus who love both their country and their God conflicted as to how to reconcile the two in regard to their vote. My desire is not to provide political council, but simply to provide some biblical perspective as it may apply to one’s decision in the voting booth.

  • Do not make a decision out of fear. In recent days I have seen and heard so many good Christian people saying, doing, defending and supporting things that are unchristian because they are overcome with fear. I repeatedly hear the justification that “we have to vote for ‘candidate B’ because we just can’t let ‘candidate A’ become president. That would destroy our nation.” As a child of God and follower of Jesus, you should not be making any decision out of fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Tim 1:7) and we must resist the urge to cast a vote based on fear of the consequence of not doing so. Set your mind to do what is right and let God worry about the consequences.
  • Make your choice out of love. In 1 Cor 16:14 we are told to “do everything in love.” That doesn’t mean loving a particular candidate. It means that the love God has for us and the love we ought to have for him should always be a factor in every decision we make. Rather than disapproval and hatred guiding our choice, we must let God’s love lead us as we choose how to vote. That means considering whether a particular candidate loves and promotes the things that God loves: humility, honesty, justice for the innocent and less fortunate, good and righteous actions, peace, reverence and obedience (Malachi 2, Proverbs 6:16).
  • Make a decision that is consistent with the pursuit and promotion of holiness. God’s desire for us as His children is that we mimic His holy character. This should be far more important to us than any political or social issues. When considering who to vote for, do not compromise personal morality or holiness for the sake of a desired outcome. It is deplorable that many Christians and even prominent evangelical leaders are rationalizing away despicable behavior and all manner of evil “for the sake of the greater good.” A candidate who flaunts immorality or unholy principles and beliefs is not an acceptable option for a follower of Christ.
  • Make a decision that elevates justice and mercy. These are two issues that lie close to the heart of God and are central to our interpersonal relationships (Micah 6:8). Though there are a variety of issues and interests affected by a presidency, we must carefully consider how an individual’s election will impact justice and mercy in our world. We have reached a critical point in regard to race relations and poverty in our nation and we need to choose a leader who is willing to fight for justice for all. There is no room for the promotion of racism, bigotry and plutocracy.
  • Make a choice that prioritizes kingdom values. As we evaluate a candidate’s qualifications and worthiness, we will inevitably have to prioritize these principles in some way. Jesus said to seek “first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)” and this is how we must approach every decision, but especially the decision of how to vote. We cannot prioritize our own desires, comforts and rights above God’s Kingdom and His standards. Many Christians have aggressively voiced a willingness to sacrifice Kingdom values such as holiness, decency , justice, mercy, love and peace for the sake of maintaining freedoms and rights such as fire arms and religious liberty. While there may be nothing wrong with some of these social issues, they cannot supersede kingdom values in your decision.
  • Make a decision that manifests trust in God. This is ultimately the crux of the matter. It is not, after all, a vote that is going to decide our next election: it is God. “For there is no authority except that which God has established (Romans 13:1)” and it is “He who removes kings and establishes kings (Daniel 2:21).” Yet many evangelicals are prepared to walk into the voting booth and demonstrate a total lack of faith because they believe that God needs them to be ok with the “lesser evil”. We have rationalized away despicable character and behavior because we believe a certain outcome is best. This kind of compromise is nothing more than a lack of trust that God can and will accomplish his purposes. It is the logic of Sarah who told Abraham that God must need his help to fulfill his promise, thus promoting an adulterous relationship for the sake of producing a child. God does not work that way. He will not ask you to sin and violate your faith, conscience and morals to accomplish His plan. He will not ask you to vote against His principles and values to achieve His plan. Instead, we must cast a vote that reflects total trust in Him. That just might mean voting for a candidate who statistically cannot win or even not voting at all. We must obediently do what is right and trust Him for the outcome.

As you prepare to vote next month, I hope that you will take these biblical principles to heart. It is my sincerest desire that you will arrive at a decision that you can be at peace with and that is in harmony with your commitment to follow Christ. Additionally, I hope you will remember that your true citizenship as a child of God is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). You are merely passing through this earthly kingdom and should not let its cares drag you down. Keep looking up and live your life in a manner that will bring glory to God. In the words of Paul, “Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king (1 Peter 2:17).”

Colin Kaepernick, Peaceful Protest, and Racial Injustice

Colin_Kaepernick_in_2013Throughout the history of professional sports in America athletes have used their fame and celebrity status as a platform to take a stand for various social and political views. Most recently, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers stirred up controversy by refusing to stand for the national anthem. His explanation after the fact was that he refuses “to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Many people have praised him for his boldness while many others have attacked him for disrespecting his own country (or the flag, the anthem, the military, etc.) If nothing else, his actions have added fuel to what seems to be an ongoing public conversation about race and social justice in our nation – and that is certainly a good thing. In the spirit of adding to this conversation, which I believe is critical, I would like to share some thoughts about Kaepernick’s protest.

  • Peaceful protest is a valued historic right that we should respect and defend. Regardless of what any one of us thinks about his motivation or form of protest, it is his right. He did nothing illegal, or even immoral for that matter, and we must allow room for people to make their own decisions as to how to exercise their rights.
  • The method of protest can overshadow the message. I think that Kaepernick’s method of protest is unfortunate. I’ve already stated that I believe it to be his right, but to meet it seems unwise. I don’t think that sitting down during the national anthem is the best way to get his message out there. Making such a controversial decision has opened the door for a great deal of criticism in regard to his motives. There are some who see this as little more than a spoiled rich kid performing a publicity stunt before he gets cut from his team. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt (which I do) that he is actually concerned with making a difference, it begs the question: “Does this actually make a difference?” Unfortunately, people aren’t talking about the racial and social issues. They’re talking about him and his “disrespect of the flag.” If anything, he seems to have distracted attention from the cause he claims to want to support.
  • Disrespect rarely has positive results. This even applies to perceived disrespect. I don’t believe that Kaepernick meant to be disrespectful, but he certainly offended a great many people. Generally, when people feel they have been disrespected they quit listening. They don’t care if you have a good reason. They shut down and go on the defensive – or worse, they attack. When peaceful protest is necessary, we should try our best to do so with respect for others. I think this is particularly true in this case when many of those he offended have literally and physically fought for his right to protest.
  • Racism is bigger than disagreeing with someone who happens to be a different color than you. One of the most frustrating things about this incident and others like it is that any and all disagreement gets shot down as racist. You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick and that doesn’t make either of you wrong or racist. In our country, we seem to have reduced racism to agreement or disagreement over issues and this trivializes the real problem of racism.
  • We must acknowledge the racial and social problems we are facing. Whatever we think of Kaepernick’s methods, his message is a necessary one. I think we are well past the point where white conservatives can deny that there is a race and social justice problem in this country. That doesn’t mean every white person is to blame or that every person of color is oppressed, but there is definitely a problem and we need to be a part of the conversation and the solution.

Regardless of what you might think of Kaepernick and his protest, you should consider the issues that have led him to it. Particularly those within the church must rise up and consider the problems of racism and social injustice. The gospel is a message of freedom and equality. We are all equally sinful and we are all equally free to accept Christ. In Him, there are no divisions along racial and social grounds. We should be leading the charge for justice, not blindly turning from the problem and denying it exists. We must enter kindly with open-mind into the discussion. We must listen to those who have been oppressed. We must release our pride and humble ourselves to consider how we contribute to the problem. The solution will not be quick or easy and the journey may look different for each of us, but ultimately we must each heed God’s words from Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Get Up, Get Up!

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Earlier this week, the Olympics in Rio provided us with a tremendous example of sportsmanship and all that is good in the world. Runners Nikki Hamblin (NZ) and Abbey D’Agostino (USA) tripped and fell to the ground during their race. While Hamblin lay there, D’Agostino grabs her shoulder and urges her, “Get up, Get up! We have to finish. This is the Olympic Games. We have to finish this.” She did get up and eventually both runners finished the race in what many are calling the “ultimate display of the Olympic spirit.” (You can read the full story here.)

Moments like this really are what the Olympics are all about and this certainly is a touching example of true sportsmanship. However, I also see this as a wonderful illustration of what the church should be. When I first saw this story, I immediately thought of Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” That is exactly what the American Olympian did for her fellow competitor. She spurred her on! She urged her toward a better finish. She compelled her to achieve what was good and pushed her to overcome her desire to give up. This is admirable in an athlete and even more so in a genuine Christ-follower.

Churches are filled with broken and hurting people who have fallen and are considering giving up in life. They are contemplating giving up on a relationship or giving up their faith or giving up their fight against an addiction or some other sin. Whatever it is specifically, they feel like they are down for the count. They have fallen for the last time. And far too often there is a multitude of people waiting to swarm and confirm their feelings of failure. We affirm their choice to give up with comments like, “You don’t have enough faith” or “They just aren’t serious enough about their faith.” We call them hypocrites, we call them unholy, we mock their failure and we avoid them so that their sinfulness doesn’t rub off on us. And this is precisely the worst, most unchristian response imaginable.

Indeed, the response of the church should be love and encouragement. We should be each other’s greatest cheerleaders. We should urge one another to get up! Genuine Christ-followers must spur one another on: “Don’t stay down! We can finish together. You can overcome!” This should be the anthem of the church. We must encourage one another to fight the good fight and to finish the race. Urge one another toward a better finish. We must compel our brothers and sisters to achieve what is good and holy and right. We must push them to overcome dangerous and sinful desires to give up. We must also run with them, showing them they are not alone.

I urge you to think right now about the broken people you know. How can you encourage them? You can pray for them, but better yet – pray with them. Call them up or seek them out and ask to pray with them. Send a card. Offer to help. Smile. Include them. Praise them for something that they’re getting right. Send them scripture in a text or an email. There are endless numbers of ways that we can encourage each other and I challenge you to pick even one and put it into practice in your church and community. Feel free to comment with your stories of encouraging or being encouraged. I’d love to hear how God is directing His followers to say “Get up, let’s finish strong together!”

Is God Really a Republican?

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As we move ever closer to the upcoming presidential election, debate as to the best candidate is heating up. I, for one, think this debate is healthy. I think that everyone is entitled to their opinion and has the right to express it. Most of the time I find value in opinions I disagree with and can respect the person despite my disagreement. Even if an opinion happens to be offensive or inappropriate, I can usually ignore it and move on without another thought. However, a recent trend in political manipulation has caught my attention and it bothers me a great deal. This trend is the use of God to leverage people into voting republican. This maneuver takes various forms, but really caught my attention when a blogger recently wrote that you cannot be Christian and a democrat. You can also find this argument all over social media in different varieties. As a Christian, even a conservative one registered as a republican, I find this terribly offensive and I believe God does as well.

I know that faith has played a part in our nation’s government since the very beginning and I am fine with that. I know that every election one candidate or another claims to be a Christian and automatically gains voters simply by association. What troubles me is the claim that God somehow supports one political party over another. This type of claim or belief requires a tremendous amount of both arrogance and ignorance. It is arrogant to think that we can know the mind of God when it comes to something like government and politics and it is ignorant to believe that any aspect of our political system is untouched by corruption and immorality.

God’s primary concern is His kingdom, not any one earthly government or nation. His plan is to redeem men and women and move them from the kingdom of darkness into the light. He requires that His children obey His commandments and walk in justice, mercy and love. He honors morality of nations, but does not dictate their actions. His concern is with the actions of individuals within those nations.

Furthermore, He is sovereign over all leaders and places and removes kings (and I think we can say presidents) as he sees fit. Throughout history, God has allowed wicked men and women to rule for his purposes. He used pagan nations like Syria and Egypt to punish the nation of Israel and used men like Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh to preserve them. Jesus urged submission to Caesar and through the writings of the apostles God urged Christians to honor emperors like Nero. Do any of these facts indicate that God was “on their side” or in their political party? Of course not!

What scripture indicates and history bears out is that God is in control regardless of what individual or political party is in power at the moment. What he cares about far more than your vote or political persuasion is that you know Him and love Him; that you love others and treat them with respect and compassion. Being a Christian isn’t about being a republican, democrat or even American! Being a Christian is about a personal relationship with God through His son Jesus and a commitment to follow Him. We should make this our focus, and instead of fighting over political positions and opinions we should busy ourselves sharing the love of Christ with everyone – regardless of whether they are voting as we are.

Some White Thoughts on #blacklivesmatter

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I went to bed Thursday night troubled by the unfolding stories of the 2 black men who died in police involved shootings over the previous 2 days. I woke up Friday to the terrible news that 5 law enforcement officers had been killed overnight. I have kept silent in the aftermath of similar events in the past. I have written nothing about #blacklivesmatter and virtually nothing in regard to race in general. This silence is somewhat due to the fact that there are always an abundance of voices speaking out after these events. It also probably has something to do with not knowing exactly what to say. And, honestly, it’s also been because I am white. I have felt like this fact has left me somehow unqualified to speak or rendered my opinion irrelevant.

However, after these most recent events I feel I must say something. I feel it is time for white men and women to speak up. More importantly, I think it is time for white Christians to speak up. And I don’t mean speak up merely to defend police officers or to try to smear the reputations of the deceased men. I’ve seen too much of that and I am as tired of that as I am of the very loud silence from white Christians. We must speak up with comfort for those who are hurting. We must speak out against violence. We must speak up in support of our black brothers and sisters who are treated differently because of the color of their skin. We must speak out against racism of all kinds. We must speak up.

We must speak up with sadness. When someone dies a tragic and violent death, we should be saddened. We should be filled with sorrow that an image bearer of God has been taken from us. In John 11:33, Jesus was “deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled” when he saw the sadness of his friends weeping for their dead brother. This should be our first response. Before we get defensive; before we get angry; before we try to figure out who was right and who was wrong; we should feel sad. I am greatly disturbed by a culture (even in Christian circles) that is unmoved by violent death. I believe that when we hear about these acts of violence we must speak up with a shared sadness.

We must speak up with compassion. Another thing to keep in mind is that every one of these lives that are taken leaves a hole in another life. I don’t care if these men are good or bad, saints or criminals, black or white; we should feel compassion for those who are hurting as a result of their death. In many of these cases, that includes whole communities. It doesn’t matter if you understand or agree with why a particular community is hurting; if they are hurting then you should care. I should care. We should be moved with compassion by the pain of the black community in the aftermath of these deaths. We should feel compassion for the law enforcement community. Showing compassion for one does not mean I don’t care about the other. Before we take sides, we must have compassion.

We must speak up with sensitivity. Too many of the voices that I do hear after a tragedy such as this are defensive, ignorant and disrespectful. I must be sensitive to those who are different than I am. I must not assume that my experience is theirs and that I have the right to determine how they must feel. As a community, we must speak up with a voice that is sensitive to the plight and pain of our brothers and sisters rather than dismissive of it.

We must speak up with humility. We cannot be so arrogant as to assume that we could possibly know all the facts in any one of these incidents, much less in all of them. The vast majority of us have no means of knowing what actually happened, yet far too often we pridefully formulate opinions as if we have all of the facts. Someone’s race does not make them guilty or innocent, but neither does the fact that someone is a police officer. We must be humble enough to admit that we have pre-conceived ideas and that they could be wrong. We must be humble enough to admit we don’t know everything. We must be humble enough to admit there could be societal issues and problems that we are unaware of or even that we are unknowingly contributing toward. I am deeply troubled by the number of Christians who arrogantly speak up after these tragedies claiming to have all the answers and condemning anyone who disagrees with them. I urge all of my brothers and sisters to speak up, but to do so with a gracious humility.

We must speak up with awareness. This might take some effort, but we have to be aware of the realities of the world around us. Do some research. Talk to people of a different skin color or nationality. Do something to gain awareness of what is going on in the world around you. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and insist there is no racism. The fact of the matter is that we live in a fallen world and in this world racism is alive and well. People are mistreated because of their skin color. People fear those who are different than they are. People make assumptions about certain communities and races without regard for individual differences. Unfortunately, I’m talking about good people as well as evil ones. We must be aware that racism doesn’t only exist within the hearts and minds of evil, hate filled extremists, but in the hearts and minds of good and well-meaning people. We have to quit denying that there is a problem. We must quit ignoring it. We must speak up with an educated awareness of the pervasiveness of racial discord in our culture.

We must speak up with truth. I’m not speaking of merely being factual, though we should certainly strive for accuracy and honesty. I’m primarily talking about speaking up with the truth of God’s Word. We must speak the truth that all life matters to God because we are each made in the image of God. We must speak the truth that God loves everyone, regardless of race. We must speak out with the truth that hatred and violence are an abomination. We must speak up with the truth that God offers forgiveness to all who will accept it. We must speak the truth that in God’s eyes we are one race, all equal before Him. We must speak up with the truth that in Jesus we can tear down racial divides and become unified in Him. We must speak the truth that only in Christ can we find healing.

Only when we speak up in this way can we make a difference. We cannot change the world by wishing it better or by ignoring its problems. We cannot change anything through arguing or fighting. We can’t make things better by placing blame. We can only hope to change our world if we are courageous enough to speak up in a way that honors God, manifests His love, and proclaims His truth.

 

 

Photo By Frerieke from The Hague, The Netherlands (Flickr: Day 20.06 _ Diversity and Unity) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Off Target: Check Your Assumptions

Target_store-Springfield-2005-10-15

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