Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent~ Acts 17:30 NASB

 My daughter has joined a gym. Her fitness goals are commendable and realistic.  She wants to gain muscle, increase her endurance and best-case scenario: drop a few pounds.

 Last night she confessed she’s run into a bit of a glitch in reaching her goals. The problem lies less with her than with the gym she belongs to. The staff is pleasant, but hands off when it comes to assisting clients.

 The staff does not help with technique or correct the wrong use of machines. There are no scales anywhere in the building. There is an enormous dish of candy at the front desk and the gym serves pizza on Fridays. If a client wishes to munch on a jelly donut while running on the treadmill, the management is perfectly fine with that. They do ask that you wipe the goo off the machine once your workout is completed.

 The goal of this organization is a noble one. The want to create a safe place for out of shape people to get into shape, without even a hint of disapproval or judgment from anyone.

 As always the only hitch is the curse of unintended consequences.  

 The employees are so wary of causing offense that the clients are not getting the help they need to make the changes they want to make. This is a legitimate problem when you consider that any gym anywhere in the world would assert that their sole purpose for existing is to help out of shape folks lose weight and get into shape.

 Her tale of woe reminded me of a blog post I read this week.

 I read quite a few blogs in a given week. Every once in a while I come across one that sticks with me and causes me to think on a deeper level.

 This was one of those.

 The writer (a Christian) shared that one afternoon while she and her husband were out shopping, they ran into a guy she had attended youth group with when she was a teenager. Except the guy wasn’t a guy anymore. He was a girl.

 Awkward.

 The writer handled herself with composure considering the delicate nature of the situation. She did not cast judgment, give disapproving looks or hurl Bible verses at him. Nor did she inform him he was headed straight for hell.

 She went out of her way to make friendly conversation and set him at ease. She asked about his family and inquired about what he had been up to in recent years. She introduced her husband, shared some of her own story, gave him a couple of big hugs and went on with her day.

 It was a nice exchange and frankly it’s probably what I would have done given the same set of circumstances. So, please don’t accuse me of judging her or anyone else, because I’m not. That said, as I pondered her story I was overcome with a deep sense of spiritual conviction and left wondering:

 Is being nice enough?

 Being nice or “showing love” to sinners is bandied about as the latest and greatest in “being like Jesus” and “loving the unsaved”. But again, I wonder is it enough? And is it really and truly “being like Jesus”?

 I am not questioning whether or not Christians ought to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards all people, including those people with obviously sinful lifestyles. Jesus was and I believe being kind is a given. If you are a Christ-follower and do not routinely treat all people with respect, you have a serious sin problem called pride and you should deal with it.

Today.

 That being said, I do wonder if simply “showing love” to people who are obviously stuck in a sin spiral is doing more harm than good from an eternal perspective. I’m not proposing we stop being nice. I am proposing we stop helping sinners to feel safe in their lost state. Our compassion and acts of kindness need to be followed up with loving, but truthful conversations about the eternal consequences of choosing a lifestyle of sin over a heart of repentance. We forget that Jesus (arguably the nicest guy ever) made it uncomfortably clear on more than one occasion that an unrepentant sinner is anything but “safe” from a spiritual standpoint (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Mark 9:47).

 I fear that we have we have traded the hard work of evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) for the path of least resistance: being pleasant and inoffensive. In the process we have become a lot like my daughter’s gym. We are safe and welcoming to sinners, but nothing significant ever really happens and no one ever changes anything that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Happens When we Take Offense

A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense~ Proverbs 19:11 NIV

It’s official.

Sometime in the recent past America morphed into a population of whiners, wimps and politically correct crybabies.

 College students at Harvard University have reported feeling “ threatened” by the possibility of the presence of students whose views on abortion might differ from their own. Students were not actually exposed to opposing ideas on the topic. Nonetheless, the mere notion they might be exposed to a view they didn’t agree with was simply more than the little snow flakes could endure.

 These attitudes are not limited to the young. Full-grown adult and committed atheist, Patrick Greene is suing the senior Pastor of Abundant Life Fellowship in Corpus Christi, Texas. Mr. Greene asserts that a 230-foot cross being erected on church property is “offensive” and “tacky as he__ __”, and should therefore be removed. Greene is also suing two city officials for attending the crosses groundbreaking ceremony as private citizens.

It seems that everyone these days is “demanding an apology” from someone for something. At this writing various Muslim groups are demanding apologies from the makers of Lego, Chick-fil-A restaurants, Clint Eastwood and a bunch of cities in Texas. Bernie Sanders is demanding an apology from Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton is demanding one from Bernie Sanders. Everybody thinks Trump should apologize for something he said or did. 

Sadly, Christian people are not immune from the madness engulfing the greater culture. Wounded Christians were out in droves this past week. They were diligently monitoring and scolding others for what they believed to be “insensitive” and “callous” April Fools day jokes.

 It’s not just silly hoaxes that God’s people find offensive these days. It is not unusual for Christians to leave or cease supporting their local church financially because they’ve determined that the Pastor’s preaching is not “sensitive” enough. Lifelong alliances and friendships are frequently tossed aside because one person hurt another’s feelings and they refuse to forgive or even discuss the subject with the other party. Discussions of doctrinal particulars are frequently forbidden at Bible studies because the subject of doctrine is considered too divisive.

Many  Pastors and Bible study leaders have simply given up teaching and preaching about “harsh” subjects such as abortion, homosexuality, adultery and divorce out of fear of offending or driving away church members. The doctrinal illiteracy that has infiltrated churches as a result of this silliness has caused many Bible studies to become little more than pools of collective ignorance.

Some Churches have scrapped doctrinal declarations of faith altogether. Embracing “Who We Are” statements in their place. These statements avoid making any pronouncements that might be considered unequivocal or offensive. One denomination dropped all references to the Bible in their Who We Are Statement and instead quote Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

 Many Christians admit to isolating themselves from other believers, because they have been hurt or felt offended by the words, actions or the “sensed” motives of others. Some have stopped attending weekly services altogether because they felt ignored or were offended by a Pastor or staff member. 

 This is simply not what Jesus envisioned for His people when He prayed that we would be one (John 17:11).

I fear we have lost our way and become a lot like the young adults we all love to mock on college campuses: a bunch of oversensitive, easily wounded, crybabies.

 This nonsense has eternal consequences. Church is no longer a place people go to find truth or get answers to life’s toughest questions. As a result unbelievers are often left to figure out life and eternity on their own. Typically,with less than spectacular results. It is noble to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others but not at the expense of tackling heaven and hell issues.

 We can stop the madness by making a habit of stepping back and praying for wisdom when we feel offended or hurt by others. We must understand that contrary to popular belief, our perceptions are not always reality.  We need the Holy Spirit, not our emotions to show us what is true in these situations. Even when our perceptions are correct and people have behaved in a way that is insensitive or callous, forgiveness, not offendedness is the God-honoring, life-giving answer.

 

 

 

 

How Christians Should Not Vote in This Election

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan~ Proverbs 29:2 ESV

 Our country has come to a place the founding fathers never imagined in their darkest of dreams. Unless the political winds shift quickly, this presidential election will likely be the strangest in our history. Bernie Sanders, self-confessed socialist/communist; and Donald Trump, reality television star/wealthy mogul, will be going toe-to-toe for the most powerful job in the world: President of the United States of America.

 Take a moment and let those words sink in. It’s unlikely either outcome will be pretty and neither can happen without the support of Christians.

 Our first option is the Senator who clearly lacks even a rudimentary understanding of how large economies work. Bernie’s fondest wish is to raise the tax rate on EVERYONE. We are told there is no need to worry because Bernie will reallocate all resources collected in a more “objective” and “equitable” fashion. Under his leadership the same government that is incapable of providing adequate medical care for military veterans (a relatively small percentage of the population) will be deciding who gets how much of pretty much everything.

 The alternative will be Trump, a full-grown adult with the temperament of a toddler. Donald was busy this week. He vowed to sue one of his rivals for producing a negative ad consisting entirely of video clips of his past statements. A day later he called the Pope “disgraceful” and said he was “going down” for criticizing his views on immigration. Trump stated repeatedly this week that he believes spiritual leaders do not have the right to criticize or correct what people believe. If that statement does not scare you, you have literally dismissed all rational thought.

 Many Christians intend to or have already voted for one of these two men. Many believe for whatever reason, that it is wrong to choose not to vote for anyone based on Christian principles. They have decided that Christian values should be consigned entirely to the private sphere of life. Those who support this view inevitably quote Luke 20:25 to justify their belief:

 Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s~ Jesus

 Context is key here. Jesus was not telling His followers they should never use biblical standards when considering a political issue or candidate. I suspect Jesus would have thought the idea that anyone should not apply biblical standards to any subject absurd.

 The question at hand in this passage was whether or not Jews were obligated to pay taxes to the Roman government. Period. Jesus was not telling his followers to abandon reason, so they could vote for some yahoo completely lacking in decency or sense just because they promise something the voter wants.

 In Matthew 22:37, Jesus tells his followers to love God with their intellect as well as their emotions. For that reason it is critical that Christians contemplate the character and conduct of a candidate when they consider whom to vote for. Anyone who promises to do a good thing that is not achievable or sustainable from a fiscal perspective is either dangerously ignorant or deliberately dishonest. He’s as bad as Trump who proudly tells the press he could shoot someone on the street and people would and should still follow him. Both should be rejected on the basis of character.

 It is critical we remember God promises that ALL people (Christian and non-Christian) will give account for all their choices, including those made in the voting booth (Romans 14:12, Hebrews 4:13).

 It’s time for Christians to get a firm grip on their feelings and stop wishing for more of the immediate change that helped propel us into this mess. We must accept the fact that the right candidate is not the person who proudly spouts vile, sinful things we sometimes think and shouldn’t. Nor is it the candidate who makes promises he cannot deliver without taking significant resources from the people who actually worked for those resources.

 The right man or woman is the person with enough humility to admit that the problems we have are too big for one person to fix alone. A true leader will be courageous enough to remind us that we all bear some responsibility for the mess we’re in, rather than tell us what our itching ears long to hear (2nd Timothy 4:3-4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hard Truth Concerning Forgiveness

I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept~ Genesis 50:17

 They have become ubiquitous on Facebook.

Photos of a man standing at sunset, back to the camera arms spread wide in an expression of complete and glorious freedom. Or sometimes the photo is of a young woman dressed in white strolling serenely down a long tree-lined path, suggesting a future filled with joy and endless possibilities.

 The quotes accompanying these images are sometimes spiritually questionable. Others are far too syrupy and sentimental for my taste. However, the vast majority of quotes on the subject are thought provoking and more than a little convicting…

 We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies~ Martin Luther King Jr.

 The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong~ Gandhi

 Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness~ Corrie Ten Boom

 Over the course of the last few years I have had the “opportunity” to work through two unrelated and dissimilar situations, both requiring me to forgive some massive and very personal hurts. I concluded after working through those situations that none of the quotes I have seen tell the complete story of forgiveness. Sappy sentimentalities and inspiring quips extolling the virtues and benefits of forgiveness inevitably miss a core truth.

 Forgiveness is hard.

 Sometimes it hurts almost as much as the offense that necessitated the forgiving. If the offense was particularly personal or the person who did the hurting was someone we trusted. The act of forgiving that person can hurt to the point of physical agony. Forgiveness is tough because involves a release of the right to seek revenge on someone who doubtless has earned some sort of retaliation. The letting go of what is logically a right can feel overwhelmingly unjust.

 Forgiveness is a foundational (albeit sometimes unpopular) doctrine of the Christian faith. God forgives without hesitation, and He clearly expects His people to forgive in the same spirit. Forgiving is so important to God that it’s a prerequisite for obtaining His forgiveness (Matthew 6:15).

 God knows enough about people to know that when we refuse to forgive, unforgiveness transforms us in a profoundly ugly way. We eventually become incapable of focusing on anything but our wounds and resentment. The relentless emphasis on the negative causes our patience to shrivel and our irritation with everyone to increase. Over time we inevitably twist into a hostile, unsympathetic and nasty version of ourselves. 

 Regrettably, knowing all this does not make forgiving any easier.

 It is considerably more difficult (if not impossible) to forgive without God’s assistance and power. Some offenses are simply too great to forgive on our own; we acquire the help we need to forgive through persistent and sometimes prolonged prayer. Prayer keeps us connected to God, prevents bitterness from taking root in our hearts and empowers us to forgive the unforgivable. We pray until our feelings towards the person who did the hurting change.

 Prayer also prevents people from blaming God for situations He had nothing to do with. Oftentimes, when Christians have suffered a serious offense they struggle as much with anger towards God, for allowing the hurt to happen as they do with the person who hurt them. It’s important to understand that God is not a puppet master who controls the choices of people.

 Sometimes people hurt others because they are egotistical, callous or even evil. Most of the time people hurt others because they are stupid, insensitive or lack awareness of how their actions affect others. Either way, it’s profoundly unjust to hold God accountable for the actions of free people.

 Forgiving would be easier if people were capable of simply forgetting offenses. We cannot do that. However, over time, with God’s assistance, we can reach a point where we are no longer held prisoner by the anger we feel towards those who have betrayed us. Forgiveness is freedom that will empower us to live a happy, useful and God-honoring life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it Always Wrong to Judge?

Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense~ Proverbs 10:13 NIV

 There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Christians were governed by a lot of rules. Many of those rules were unwritten but very real and recognized by all members of polite Christian society.

 The use of alcohol was strictly forbidden. Tobacco use was assumed to be a clear sign of obvious inner corruption. Tri-weekly church attendance was mandatory. Divorce was intolerable under any circumstances, even in situations where abuse was clearly evident. To be seen entering a movie theater resulted in a trip to the rumor mill. Only the vilest of heathens used salty language. Dress codes mattered; respectable men wore suits, hemlines were carefully monitored for modesty and women brazen enough to wear shorts were shunned.

Not all the rules were biblical.

Some were not even rational, a few were downright ridiculous. As a result the thing happened that always happens when individuals cease to be sensible and get carried away with rule making. For better or worse, the pendulum of popular opinion swung sharply in the opposite direction.

 It is no longer odd for Christians to drink alcohol or for churches, even evangelical churches, to serve alcohol at outreach events. Tobacco use is still frowned upon, not because it’s considered sinful or wrong, but because it’s unhealthy.

 Church attendance is no longer obligatory; in fact few Christians who identify themselves as committed believers even attend weekly services. Divorce for any and every reason is commonplace in the Church. Christians who choose NOT to attend even R-rated movies are sometimes considered a bit odd. In a few congregations, clothing is practically optional. And weirdest of all, it it is not unheard of for edgy young preachers to drop an F-bomb from the pulpit to make a point.

 All the old rules have been replaced with one new rule: THOU SHALL NOT JUDGE. Admittedly this is rule came about as a result of mostly silly, sometimes heartless, legalistic nitpicking about topics that have for the most part, never had any real relevance to Christianity whatsoever. Only an idiot would yearn for a return to the bad old days of unhinged legalism.

 Legalism is the brainchild of the devil, a perversion of the Christian concept of holiness. Legalism takes our eyes off of Jesus, and places our focus on the  outward behavior of others, rather than our own behavior, attitudes and internal spiritual development. Legalism breeds unhealthy spiritual self-confidence and sometimes even becomes a substitute for salvation.

 That said, not all judging is sinful. Some judging is beneficial and even biblical (1st Corinthians 5:12-13).

 There are two types of judgment. The first is when one imperfect human judges another imperfect human worthy of heaven, hell or the right to be cared for and loved based on behavior or outward appearances that may or may not be based on biblical truth. This sort of judgment is wrong, leads to hypocrisy (Matthew 23:1-5) and sets us up to be judged by the same standards (but not necessarily for the same sins) we set for others. The Pharisees judged in in this way and Jesus sharply condemned them for it (Matthew 7:1).  

 Christians are clearly not called to judge those outside the Church (1st Corinthians 5:12-13). The behavior of non-Christians is troubling to us at times. It is also none of our concern. Our responsibility towards the unsaved is to pray, show them the kindness of God and to present biblical truth. What they choose to do with all that is between them and God. He is the final judge.

 There is such a thing as healthy Christian judgment and it begins with regular and rigorous self-examination. We must be willing to look for sin in our own lives with the same zeal we normally reserve for others. But there is more to it than just that; we also have to keep ourselves open to the idea that we might be wrong about something we believe or do. Growing Christians are willing to entertain the notion that the thing or the attitude they have been holding onto as a “right” or as a “Christian freedom” might just be something that is holding back their growth and possibly leading others astray (1st Corinthians 10:23-33).

 We forget that Christians are called to judge one another, not in a condemning way, but out of concern for one another (1st Corinthians 5:11). If the Church is ever going to get healthy again, the people in it have got to stop getting angry every time someone says something that challenges their point-of-view on an attitude or behavior. It’s time to stop shouting, “You can’t judge anyone ever!” and start thinking about why we fear being judged or hearing a view that differs from our own.

 

 

 

 

   

 

When You Hit the Wall

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith~ Hebrew 12:1-2

 There are a number of terms for it, some of them colorful. Sometimes it’s called “throwing in the towel” or “flaking out.” I generally refer to it as “calling it. ”The military calls it “deserting your post”, my kids call it “canning” and the English call it “bunking off”. I will not repeat the phrase my Father had for it; all you need to know is that it’s not the least bit appropriate.

 Runners call it “hitting the wall.” I am partial to that particular expression because “hitting the wall” is about more than quitting. Hitting the wall is a moment in a race that appears to come out of nowhere. Suddenly the runner is overcome with negative thoughts and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. Every muscle begs for mercy. The runner longs to just give up and go home.

 Hitting the wall happens for a number of reasons, some completely outside the runner’s control. Poor weather conditions, outside distractions, fatigue, illness or lack of proper training for that particular race can cause even the most seasoned athlete to long to bow out of the race and hit the nearest Five Guys. Whatever the cause, the bottom-line is simple. When a runner hits the wall, they have a choice to make. Do they give-up and go home or do they dig deep and muster the strength to finish the race?

 Runners are not the only ones faced with that choice.

At some point in the Christian life, every follower of Jesus hits a spiritual wall: a dark and ugly fork in the road where the walk of faith simply feels too hard and not worth pursuing. Deep down inside they don’t know if they can or even want to keep going. No Christian wants to admit they’ve hit the wall but everyone does at some point.

 Hitting the spiritual wall can come as a result of deep grief or profound personal loss. Sometimes it comes after a long period of remaining faithful in the face of what feels like endless disappointment. Mistreatment by other Christians can cause even the most mature believer to hit the wall. Other times, it’s a result of relentless attacks from the enemy. It can happen because of lack of attention to our spiritual life. Sometimes it’s a result of chronic overwork or discouragement.

 The causes matter, but not nearly as much as our response.

 There are two common responses to hitting the wall. The first is to get angry and run as far from God as possible. This reaction is born out of the belief that God could have and should have prevented whatever circumstances led to our confusion and misery. This all-too common reaction makes sense on a human level. However, it inevitably leads to spiritual disaster and is exactly what the enemy of our souls wants us to do.

 The healthy response to the hopelessness that occurs when we hit the wall is to run towards God. Running towards God begins with an honest conversation. We need to talk to Him about our situation and our feelings about it. This can be scary, many believers balk at the notion of being honest with God. It feels sinful and wrong to admit our anger and confusion out loud. Being real with God isn’t something we do for God. God already knows exactly what we think and how we feel (Hebrews 4:12). We get real with God for our own good, to keep from getting stuck in bitterness.

 Once we talk things out with God, it is time for an evaluation of our life and attitudes. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions:

 Is there sin we need to repent of (Acts 3:19)?

Are we spending time in prayer and reading the Bible (Hebrews 2:2-4)?

Are we isolating ourselves from other Christians (Hebrews 10:25)?

Are we blaming God for the devil’s work (Luke 22:31)?

Are we praising Him in spite of our circumstances (Psalm 22)?

Are we believing God will work out His plan for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28)?

Are we walking in faith or fear (Isaiah 41:10)?

 Once any necessary repenting is done, it’s time to trust. Trust that God’s love for you has not changed or faded. Trust that He is still on your side. Trust that this miserable, awful trial you are enduring will make you wiser, more compassionate and better able to serve. Most importantly, trust that God is good and believe that better days are right around the corner.

Because they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What We Have to do to Solve the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you~ Proverbs 3:21-22a NIV

 The terrorist attacks that began last week in Paris did more than simply prove once and for all that the Middle East is not at all like Vegas. What happens there does not stay there. Their problems eventually become our problems.

 The Syrian refugee crisis is not a new issue, nor is it confined to Syria. Christians, Jews, Yazidis and some Muslims began fleeing Afghanistan and Iraq when ISIS gained a foothold in those countries after the United States military pulled out of Iraq in 2009. The Syrian conflict that began in 2011 enlarged ISIS territory and drastically increased the number of refugees seeking asylum. To date, at least twelve million men, women and children have sought protection from the carnage and genocide in the Middle East.

 The recent terrorist attacks have complicated the situation. Prior to the Paris attacks President Obama agreed to admit ten thousand refugees into the United States. When it was discovered that at least one of terrorists involved in the Paris attack entered France by posing as a Syrian refugee, the U.S. and other countries began rescinding offers of asylum. And now the fate of every Syrian refugee hangs in the balance.

 There are two positions regarding the refugees: some are compassionate, some are cautious. The cautious folks (many of them Christians) feel that allowing anyone from the Middle East into our country for any reason increases the risk of a terrorist attack on American soil. The cautious make the case that the economy is far from recovered, and refugees would put additional pressure on an already stressed system.

 They also point out that our government has an established record of incompetence when it comes to virtually every task imaginable. Most do not believe that the Obama administration should be trusted to adequately examine the backgrounds of thousands of people fleeing a war-torn country with little or no identification. Many coming from this perspective are willing to allow refugees into the country eventually. They just want some guarantees that the emigrants allowed in will be self-supporting and will not be entering under false pretenses to wreak havoc on American citizens.

 The compassionate folks (many of them Christians) believe that America is a big, generous country with many of resources. Therefore America ought to help whoever needs it. They believe that because the process to enter the U.S. takes eighteen to twenty-four months the risk of terrorists entering the country is relatively small.

 These folks point out that many, if not most of the refugees are Christians who face certain death if returned to their country of origin. The compassionate recognize the hard truth that any one of us could find ourselves in the same position as the refugees and ask what we would want done for us if we found ourselves in such a horrific place.

 Both the cautious and the compassionate have valid points. The refugees do need help, the United States should be a part of the solution, and at least some of the refugees likely pose a genuine threat to U.S. citizens. However, both the cautious and the compassionate entirely miss the larger issue.

 They forget that these refugees did not appear out of thin air. Cold-blooded adherents to a bloodthirsty death cult drove these people from their homes because they want to create a country of their own, a country where they make the rules. The religious whack-nuts responsible for the refugee crisis have enslaved countless innocents, beheaded Christians and Jews, thrown homosexuals from buildings, disfigured the faces of women and routinely rape boys and girls as young as eight. These animals cannot be reasoned with because they are, by their very nature, unreasonable beings.

 Finding a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is going to require more than compassion or caution. It will require action on the part of Western nations, including the United States. The refugees need to be placed in safe zones (preferably in Europe) overseen by the United Nations while Western nations band together to accomplish the only truly humane option for these folks.

 We must annihilate ISIS and give the refugees their countries back. Sending refugees to Europe or bringing them to the U.S. appears to be a compassionate course of action but in actuality it only delays unraveling the real problem, which is the existence of ISIS.

 No one in his or her right mind WANTS our country to fight another war in the Middle East. Wars are expensive and there have been far too many fought on that real estate in recent years. That said, this is not a pointless war; it is a just war and it’s worth the cost. It’s time to act like grown-ups and deal with the reality we have, not the one we wish we had. ISIS and their ilk will not stop unless they are stopped. It is up to Western Nations to put an end to the madness before the poison spreads. What happens in the Middle East does not stay in the Middle East.

 

 

 

 

Wishing Doesn’t Make it Real

 Buy the truth and do not sell it— wisdom, instruction and insight as well~ Proverbs 23:23

 I have irrefutable proof that the lunacy of our age is increasing at an alarming rate. 

 The evidence arrived via a news story on the latest issue to vex an Illinois school district. The federal government is threatening to withhold six million dollars in funding from district schools. Officials ran afoul of the federal authorities when they announced the decision to refuse to allow a high school boy (who lives as a girl) to shower and change in the girl’s locker room.

 It would be tough to accuse this particular school district of discriminating against anyone. The boy is allowed to wear girls’ clothing. He is called by a female name of his own choosing and he plays basketball on the girls’ team. The boy has been given full access to all of the girl’s restrooms and the school paid for the construction of a private changing room for him, located inside the girls’ locker room.

 The district asserts that the decision to deny the boy further access to the girl’s locker room was made only after they received complaints from students and parents. Evidently a few regressive Neanderthals balked at the notion of permitting a boy (who is still has his boy parts) to shower and change alongside the girls.

 I chose this example not because I wanted to write a screed against transgender people, but rather because it illustrates an increasingly common scenario where someone has chosen to believe something that is demonstrably untrue and then demands that everyone else get on board with their game of make-believe.

 It is simply a fact that a man cannot be trapped inside a female body or vice-versa. Those scenarios make for great movies but are biological impossibilities. A man might wish desperately that he had been born a woman or a woman might wish she had been born a man. I have nothing but compassion for men and women who struggle with those feelings. I have no doubt that those feelings are real and very painful. However, wishing something were true cannot turn a feeling into a fact.

 This issue is not restricted to gender. Some suppose that identifying strongly with the struggles and customs of a particular race somehow transforms the reality of their ethnic heritage. Others have come to believe that feeling they are in an “unsafe” environment causes them to be in actual mortal danger. Some believe that being exposed to offensive words or ideas is a form of rape. Many wish college education were free and have decided that their wishes can magically alter economic reality. Countless people truly believe that their feelings determine what is real.

 It is typical for children to go through a phase where they believe something to be true that is clearly false (I had a child who insisted she really was Winnie-the-Pooh). How a parent chooses to deal with their child’s fantasies behind closed doors is their own business. However, it is clearly wrong for individuals, the media, church leaders, parents, schools or the federal government to force the rest of society to kowtow to the fanciful wishing of a small minority.

We all need to grow up at some point. One aspect of growing-up is facing realities we don’t like. White people cannot really be black. Words, even mean words are not a form of rape (and saying so belittles the horror of rape). Feeling unsafe does not necessarily mean you are in danger. Gender is not “fluid” and money does not appear out of thin air. These are all irrefutable truths that need to be confronted head on.

 Jesus says this about truth:

 You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32

 Jesus wants people to embrace truth, not because He’s mean but rather because He knows that embracing truth really does set us free. Jesus wants people everywhere to know and understand the truth about life, God and our own sinful state and how our sinfulness affects our view of reality. Truth frees sinful people from the self-imposed oppression that is a consequence of living life captive to our feelings.

 The most critical truth in this world is that God made us to be in relationship with Him. Relationship with God gives us the grace, strength and wisdom we need to live life as it really is, not the way we wish it was.

 

 

 

 

 

The Real Root of Our Problems

They rejected God’s decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.” 2nd Kings 17:15

 Last week I and millions of other Americans watched in horror as the news of the day unfolded. The story has become depressingly common. Another bloodbath at another school in another sleepy little town where no one ever dreamed anything that awful could happen.

 There were no actual surprises in the details. The killer was another socially stunted loner from a broken home with few friends or ties to his community. Gun hoarding, collecting war memorabilia and hating appear to have been his only hobbies.

 The only aspect of this story more foreseeable than the details of the killer’s life was the reaction from politicians and pundits. The accusations and calls for change commenced before the bodies were counted. The anti-gun guys predictably blamed easy access to guns. The pro-gun guys blamed a lack of armed guards on campus. Politicians insisted that more laws will solve everything and physiologists blamed the breakdown of our mental healthcare system.

 Everybody is talking but no one is asking the one question that really needs to be answered: Why is our society devolving at such a rapid pace?

 A mass shooting is technically defined as a shooting where four or more people are shot or wounded in a single attack. There was not a single reported mass shooting in America in the year 1915; in fact, mass shootings were practically unheard of prior to 1963. As of today, there have been 298 mass shootings this year. For those keeping count, that is more than one shooting a day so far in 2015.

 America is and has always been a country of gun owners. Statistics are unobtainable, but it seems safe to assume that more Americans owned guns in 1915 than in 2015. It’s also patently absurd to argue that it was somehow more difficult to acquire a gun a century ago than it is today.

 It is demonstrably true that our mental healthcare system is in serious trouble. Good counselors are tough to find and even tougher for many folks to afford. An obviously deranged lunatic can only be committed after he or she actually hurts someone. Doctors hand out prescriptions for medications no one truly understands with little follow-up on those taking powerful, mind-altering drugs. All that being said, it’s still fanciful to argue that the mental healthcare available a hundred years ago was somehow superior to the mental healthcare available today.

 Stricter laws sound like a reasonable no-hassle solution to our problems. But truth- be-told, there are already plenty of laws governing gun ownership. However, lawbreakers have a vexing habit of simply disregarding the existing laws and because past behavior is always the best predictor of future behavior; it’s fairly safe to assume criminals would simply ignore any new legislation.

 Blaming guns, laws or the mental healthcare system for shootings and other social problems is naïve and misguided. If we continue to blame things rather than people, we will commit societal suicide because we cannot solve problems we refuse to see.

 It is fashionable to blame guns, laws and shoddy healthcare for the problem of gun violence. It’s also intellectually lazy and irrational. If guns, laws or healthcare were the problem, the same problems would have existed a hundred years ago. The real problem lies squarely at the feet of the individuals in our society. Individual people build societies, and our society is generating an increasing number of individuals who have no conscience and who place zero value on human life.

 The problems began when we decided as a society that we could have morality without God or fixed standards of right and wrong. Gun violence is just one symptom of the societal breakdown that was triggered by our makeshift morality and the irrational social engineering that has followed.

 If as individuals we want real and lasting change, it is critical that we stop looking to politicians and pundits to solve our problems. Their well-intended “solutions” limit freedom and do nothing to solve the real problems.  

It’s time we start looking to God.

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever Happened to Higher Standards?

Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel~ Philippians 1:27 NASB

 I recently reached a milestone I was not expecting to reach for at least another couple of decades. I have officially lived long enough to be astounded by the changes I have seen in my lifetime.

 Just a few short years ago blackberries and apples were fruit. Green was a color not a movement. Crocs were reptiles. Living together prior to marriage was considered way out of the mainstream. People used payphones in emergencies. Restaurants had smoking sections and watches had a practical rather than simply decorative purpose.

 Tweeting was something birds did. Microwave ovens were for rich people. No one had ever heard of social media, reality television, iPods, helicopter parenting, DVDs, online dating or life coaches.

 Changes have not been exclusively reserved for the technological and secular spheres of life. The Church has seen more than its fair share of radical shifts in the years since I became a Christian.

 There was a time in the not-so-distant past when no one in the Church had ever heard of coffee bars, the emergent church movement or the purpose-driven ministry model. Worship teams, small groups, overhead projectors for music and padded chairs (as opposed to pews) were considered cutting edge ministry innovations.

 I don’t have a problem with tweaking the way we do Church. There is nothing heretical about changing how we reach a relentlessly changing culture. I do have a problem with change for the sake of change. Change for change’s sake is a silly waste of time, spiritual energy and fiscal resources

 One change I find particularly troubling is the tendency to shy away from holding anyone to a higher standard of behavior. Back in the day, Pastors and Bible teachers spent a great deal of time highlighting the importance of Christians being different and living their lives at a higher level of morality than the rest of the culture.

 Today I want to make a case for living life at a higher standard. I am not advocating high moral values for non-Christians. Non-Christians should not be expected to behave like Christians. Neither am I advocating eccentricity (being different for the sake of being different) or legalism (doing things or adopting behaviors in an effort to earn salvation). I am advocating a return to a pursuit of holiness and Christian distinctiveness (1st Peter 2:9). Higher standards of behavior benefit believers in at least three ways:

 Higher standards cause non-Christians to self-evaluate- 1st Peter 3:1

 When Christians make the effort of living their lives according to God’s standards, marriages tend to be stronger and families more loving. Folks tend to be more content with what they have and suffer from fewer life-controlling addictions and behaviors. Non-Christians observe the differences and sometimes the disparities trigger self-evaluation of their priorities and lifestyle choices. Assessments of lifestyle choices often lead to repentance and a relationship with Jesus.

 Higher standards act as a safeguard- Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 119:45

 God’s decrees aren’t magic bullets but sometimes they look and feel like it. Families are happier and healthier when parents follow biblical principles for family life. Managing money according to biblical principles shelters folks from many financial disasters. God’s rules for sex have protected generations from heartbreak, disease and unintended pregnancy. Doing life God’s way inevitably produces superior outcomes and happier human beings.  

 Higher standards deepen our relationship with God- Psalm 62:7, 2nd Corinthians 12:9

 Living life by biblical standards is not easy, and it is not something we accomplish without God’s help. The commitment to live at a level we are not really capable of forces us to seek a deeper dependency on God. If you don’t feel you need God’s help to live up the moral standards you’ve set for yourself, your standards are not high enough.

 Christians have confused moral standards with legalism and rigidity for far too long. It is not legalistic to be vigilant about what we allow into their minds via books, television, music or other forms of media (Proverbs 4:23). It may be antiquated, but it’s not legalistic to be cautious about the words we use (Ephesians 4:29). It is not puritanical to believe that Christians should not divorce without biblical grounds or that God’s views on sexuality (1st Thessalonians 4:3-8) are still relevant today.

 A return to higher standards of morality will empower individual Christians to reach a world that urgently needs to witness the power of holiness in action.