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!

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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

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).”

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.

Speak the Truth – Even About Politics

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I was recently perusing social media when I came across a statement purporting to be a quote by a prominent Republican Presidential candidate. Now, I don’t generally spend much time or energy in the political realm, but this statement caught my attention for a number of reasons. One reason was that the statement was so oddly harsh toward the candidate’s own party as to be ridiculous, but another reason was the large number of Christians I knew and mostly trusted who were sharing this statement as fact.

Though I at first moved on and turned my thoughts to other things, I eventually gave in to the thoughts nagging at the back of my mind and decided to do a little fact checking. Very little effort quickly revealed that, sure enough, the statement was a hoax. Now, there is certainly nothing shocking about fake quotes on the internet nor am I naïve enough to believe I have always been able to detect these hoaxes as easily. In fact, the only reason I share this incident is because it got me to thinking about the virtue of honesty. For a Christian, few things should be more important than being truthful. After all, it is through “speaking the truth in love” that we can grow into mature Christlikeness (Eph 4:15).

Admittedly, I more often than not find myself addressing believers about the need to be loving in their speech, but on this occasion I feel compelled to ask my brothers and sisters to be certain that they are speaking truth. As Christians, we claim to know the one who is “the way the TRUTH and the life.” We say that we follow the “Word of TRUTH.” We proclaim the Gospel as TRUTH and we belong to a kingdom of TRUTH. And yet, when it comes to issues of this earthly kingdom (in which we are merely temporarily passing through) we are willing to compromise our position of truth and use the fleshly tools of lies and deception to get our way or persuade public opinion. May this not be so in the body of Christ. I pray that we can stand up for what is right without compromising truth.

We are blessed to live in a nation where we can participate in government and we are blessed as well with numerous platforms to share our opinions, concerns and positions. I encourage all Americans to take advantage of these blessings. Be involved in social and political issues if you feel led. Be bold as you stand up for what is right and for what you believe. Just make sure that as you stand, you are being truthful because greater than any political position you may hold is the position you hold in the family of God. And His family is all about the truth!

While We Were Sinners

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the Christian response to homosexuality and gay marriage in particular. Much of the discussion centers on the issue of Christian business people demonstrating their protest (or “taking a stand”) by refusing services to gay people. As you suspect by now, I have some thoughts I want to share in the hopes they might be helpful.

  • You should do what is right (as determined by God, not you) whether it is legal or not. In the Old Testament book of Daniel, Daniel continued his pattern of prayer even when it was outlawed and his 3 friends refused to worship an idol even though it was required by law. They also willingly faced the consequences of their stand (the lion’s den and the fiery furnace respectively) and trusted God for the outcome (deliverance on both accounts).
  • You have the “right” to take a stand on any issue you want. This goes beyond simply doing what is right. As an individual with the capacity for choice, you can take a stand on anything. Just don’t confuse standing up for your issue with doing what is right. Remember, too, that you are also choosing to face the consequences of making that stand. Additionally, your spiritual liberty frees you to forego your rights for the benefits of others.
  • There is a difference between taking a stand for what is right and protesting what you believe to be wrong. As I understand it, I am biblically mandated to do the former but not necessarily always supposed to do the latter. In context of our current discussion, I would certainly say you should “take a stand” if someone tried to force you to marry a person of your same gender. I’m not so certain that we are required, or that it is best, to protest someone else’s sin (especially if they are an unbeliever) by refusing services (cake, catering, photography, etc.) to that person.
  • Not everyone who takes a stand against gay marriage is a bigot, but neither is everyone who opposes it a biblically minded follower of Christ. The fact of the matter is, there are bigots and those who are prejudiced on both sides of major issues. It is unwise to defend or condemn everyone who holds a given position, because the same conclusions can be drawn for a variety of reasons.
  • Christians should love all righteousness and hate all sin. One of the biggest problems I see recently is that many of the Christians who are suddenly so concerned with taking a stand are inconsistent. I cannot judge the heart, but this inconsistency makes it look as if Christians are simply masking bigotry with Bible verses in the same way many early Americans supported slavery from Scripture (a position which, for the record, is stupid).
  • Unbelief is the primary sin I should target for change in unbelievers. As a believer, there are certain sins (sexual ones are certainly included) that the Bible indicates are more detrimental to me and to my walk with the Lord. However, in dealing with the sinful world, the only sin I should be concerned with is their rejection of Christ. Until then, convincing them to stop a specific sin doesn’t save them. Once they believe, then maybe the Holy Spirit could use me to help them deal with other sins.
  • Remember that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).” God did not reserve His love until we deserved it or until we agreed with Him or even until we quit sinning. I think we should follow this example as much as possible.

I realize that my thoughts have the potential to create controversy, but that is not my desire. It is also not at all my desire to dictate to others what they should or should not take a stand on or to appear as if I have all the answers. I do not and I personally still wrestle with how to handle some of these unique cultural issues. My only motivation in sharing the above thoughts is to perhaps aid in the process of making the difficult decisions about where to draw the line when it is not obvious.

Random Thoughts on the Death of Osama bin Laden

I am not the most informed (nor interested) person when it comes to matters of news and politics, but when reports of the death of Osama bin Laden begin to surface even I take notice. This was the case yesterday as I found myself following these reports with interest until confirmation was given by our president. As the hours passed, I also began to take notice of something else – something that was of far greater interest to me. What I noticed was the enormous reaction to this news and what began to trouble me was the joyful and celebratory attitude that I was observing from fellow Christians. While I am neither politician nor writer, I feel compelled to make some comments about these things and I pray that they will be taken in the sincere and well-intentioned spirit in which they are written.

I suppose I should begin by saying that I am not opposed to this government-led execution of a criminal and terrorist. I have read the sentiment equating the actions of our government with the actions of bin Laden himself and while I won’t take the time to debate this, I think that it is a ridiculous argument. The execution of one guilty of murder is a mandated function of human government (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1-5) and in bin Laden’s case, justice has been served.

The Bible says, “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15). The troubling thing to me, though, is in the nature of this joy. As I read this verse I cannot help but notice that it is the righteous that receive joy when justice is done. This is significant because a righteous person is not finding joy in someone else’s misery or punishment, but in the fact that God is receiving glory through the manifestation of His character. To find joy in the death of even a wicked man goes against God’s own declaration in His Word. Ezekiel 18:23 says “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?

While it is perfectly acceptable to be glad that bin Laden is no longer murdering and it is proper to rejoice in justice for the glory it brings to God, we should evaluate the motives behind our joy. We must also remember that God finds pleasure not in the demise of the wicked, but in their salvation. We are commanded to go into all the world preaching the Gospel and making disciples (Mat 28:19-20). While most of us have never had the personal opportunity to share the Gospel with a man like bin Laden, to rejoice that he is dead and in hell is a direct violation of and contradiction to the evangelistic heart that all Christians must have. Rather than rejoice in his death, I am challenging myself to pray for his fellow terrorist to turn from their wickedness and experience God’ s mercy and love. Will you join me?