Category Archives: Faith

My take on issues related to faith and our culture. I’m actually liable to be fairly serious on a few of these.

You Gotta Serve Somebody

Those words were sung by Bob Dylan some 38 years ago and they still ring true.

Over the last few months I’ve been very frustrated. I’ve had a string of job and client opportunities find me finishing in second place, I got totally screwed over by a client with lies and deceit and all that mixed in with a decision in our nation’s political process that I just don’t feel good about. And in recent weeks I’ve experienced some doubt about what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. So I went to the once place where I knew I could get answers …

God.

I caught the tail end of Dylan’s song on the radio one day and it made me think, “Who am I really working for?”

Me?

My wife?

My family?

My community?

No, God brought a verse back to mind from Joshua. “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15b).

And it’s that mindset that I move forward.

I’ve been down this road a time or two. A previous marriage ended when she decided that playing the field was her best option. I’ve been laid off for pretty ridiculous reasons, which were more petty and personal than they were professional.

But no matter what the incident, I have always found that when I finally get my stuff together and trust God, it all works out.

That doesn’t mean I get my job or wife back – in both cases a good thing – but it does mean that I more easily find the next thing God has in store for me.

And so I move forward. God has put some more opportunities in my path and I will pursue them with the same vigor as before. But hopefully this time around if God gives those opportunities to someone else, I’ll have the clear sight to see that He must have something even bigger and better down the road.

When the worst choice seems like the best

Note – What you will read below may, in some instances, become slightly graphic and I will use personal examples. If these depictions bother you, or if you knew Ellen Louise Allen, you may want to refrain from reading further.

 

We still don’t know why.

We likely never will.

January 13, 2016 my sister, Ellen Louise Allen, took her own life. And like many of those affected by this kind of action, we are left wondering what we could have done to stop it. What we could have done to change the outcome. And just left wondering what part we may have played in it.

In the days since I have come to the conclusion that there is no yes or no answer. There is no long-form response or explanation that will ever make it truly clear or sufficient.

Ellen was a loving, helpful, joking person who seemed to be OK to many who met her. She always had a helping hand to lend, would fight for those suffering injustice and was well-equipped with a kind word or gesture for anyone she ever met or knew. Only close family members and friends knew that she was fighting a battle below her cheery exterior.

What may shock those that know my family is that as a child, she and my sisters watched my father’s physical and emotional abuse our oldest brother, Eddie. We’re not exactly sure why, but it seems that maybe my father just wasn’t ready to be a parent when he was born. I was some 18 years behind him life so I never witnessed it, but my sisters all agree that there were beatings and verbal lashings that went well beyond discipline and reason.

My burden came in just the last few years when I learned that my father used to treat me as the “golden child”, comparing Eddie’s failures to successes I had not even yet attempted as an infant. He was made to feel inferior by my “example”. An unfair comparison if ever there was one.

It’s no wonder that Eddie chose a life of heavy drinking and drug addiction. He eventually died as a result of those choices and the view he held of himself.

But more than the other girls, Ellen was always very emotional and deeply affected by Eddie’s abuse. Maybe because she was the second oldest and they had a deeper connection. Maybe it was that mothering instinct – that she displayed with everyone she came in contact with – that caused her to care so deeply for Eddie and try to protect him.

In the present day, Ellen still seemed happy even though she battled dark times that had crossed her life. She had lost the love of her life decades earlier in Ronnie Brown. A divorce and loss of other loves also followed in recent years, yet she always seemed like she was on top of it.

Ellen knew God, but I’m not sure she knew of all the resources God makes available to believers when they face times such as hers. I think she knew of God’s unfailing love and what he did for her with the sacrifice of his son, but how to truly access the healing power of God’s love was something she just didn’t have knowledge of. And that is where I think the problem began and eventually ended.

Her daughter Sara texted me the other night, ranting as to why her mother was dead and how “Satan had won.” She turned to me as one of her spiritual guides for a scriptural answer, and I’m not sure there is a good one.

What I do know is that Satan prowls about us like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). But like a lion, he knows he has to spring his trap when the moment is perfect, or he’ll lose his prey.

Satan laid this trap some 60 years ago when my sisters watched my brother being abused. They saw it. They heard it. They lived it. It’s something that I’m sure still lives with my remaining two siblings to this day.

As for Ellen, I believe that she got distracted from who God was because she might have been getting close to figuring out just who and what Jesus could do for her. Whatever was good in her life, I think Satan whispered, “Well maybe, but it’s really not that great, is it? I mean, it’s a cruel world.” He may have even tossed in, “Look what your dad did to your brother, right?”

And I think Ellen would hear it and agree, just a little.

And each time the enemy repeated his lie, she reluctantly agreed a little more.

And finally, after years of hearing the lie, she lost all sight of the truth and the savior and could only see the darkness that she’d been deceived into thinking consumed her on all sides.

My sister, the mother of three wonderful children and the grandchildren they blessed her with, is gone. Try as we might, we cannot change that.

But in her loss we can learn that there are others like her all around. Men and women every day are struggling over personal loss, tough times and just making ends meet. They need to know that there’s a God who loves them and who has already sacrificed everything for them, if they would only choose to accept his free gift of salvation.

While the Allen and Brown families are left with numerous questions at the time of our loss, the real question is what are we going to do about it?

Who, standing right next to you, needs to know the love of God today?

It All Means Something, The Words That They Say

SemanticsThe meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage came down last week, a lot of people have been playing fast and loose with words and their interpretations. Sadly, many of them are Christians. They are people who are anything but perfect, but demand that everyone else act as such while ignoring a veritable lumberyard in their own ocular cavity.

That’s a log in your own eye, just so you don’t have to go look it up, around … well … that log in your eye.

Let’s be clear on a few things we KNOW about today’s world:

  • The world hate’s Christians, even if it states otherwise“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)
  • Sinners and Christians have the same sin“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:22b-24) and “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10)
  • God’s ‘Great Commission’ gives Christ’s followers two jobs, and one of them is NOT condemnation – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • God makes it pretty clear that belief or unbelief are the qualifiers for salvation – “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

So let’s start at the beginning…

If you’re a Christian, or at least claim to be, then if you have read any of the Bible you should already know that the world is out to get us. It’s not some breaking newsflash or some bullet point that just came in over the wire on CNN. Get over it and get on with what God wants you to be doing.

In case you think I’m pulling your leg, let’s take a look back at just some of society’s greatest anti-Christian hits from the last 70 years or so:

  • 1948 – Supreme Court rules that time set aside for prayer in public schools is unconstitutional. (McCollum v. Board of Education)
  • 1962 – Supreme Court rules that children may not recite a state written prayer in school (Engel v. Vitale).
  • 1963 – Supreme Court bans individual school prayer (Murry v. Curlett) and Bible reading in public schools (Abington Township School District v. Schempp).
  • 1965 – Supreme Court rules that a child may pray silently to himself if no one knows he is praying and his lips do not move.
  • 1980 – Supreme Court rules that the Ten Commandments cannot be posted in classrooms, “for a child might read them, reflect upon them and then obey them.”  (Stone vs. Graham) 
  • 1985 – Supreme Court strikes down Alabama law requiring schools to have a moment of silent meditation at the beginning of the day.
  • 1987 – Supreme Court overturns a State Law requiring a balanced treatment of creation science and evolution.  (Edwards vs. Aguillard)
  • 1992 – Supreme Court rules Clergy may not offer prayer at graduation ceremonies.  (Lee vs. Weisman)
  • 2000 – Supreme Court rules student initiated or student led prayer at football games is unconstitutional.  (Doe vs. Santa Fe Independent School District)

Same Shtick, Different Decade

Maybe you’ve been distracted by soap operas, disco and Deflategate over the past few decades and missed all that. But as you can see, what’s going on is nothing new.

As GI Joe would say, “Now you know and knowing is the half the battle!”

But sadly, we have Christians sounding the war trumpet and threatening (falsely I might add) to set themselves on fire or move to Canada. Folks, I believe this is nothing more than a slight of hand trick by the Master Trickster himself.

I remember of friend of mine in college named Dave who was a crack magician. When we had a talent show and some classmates coaxed him into performing and when he hit the stage it looked awful. He tried the old pouring milk into a newspaper routine, but fumbled with the newspaper and the cap to the milk. I was sure he’d crash and burn. But in the end, he seemed to just barely pull it off.

When I saw him off stage later I told him how concerned I was for him and was glad he had completed it. “Tim,” he whispered out the side of his mouth, “if they’re watching the paper and cap, they’re not watching what else I’m doing.” I realized at that moment I had been duped!

Truth of the matter is that I believe that Satan is having one heck of a laugh right now. While we’ve had pastors and Christians making declarations about what they would do if gay marriage was allowed, we’ve yet to see it happen. For starters, it’s kind of tough thing to set yourself on fire. And secondly, moving to Canada will only take you to a country that has had publicly funded health care for the last 31 years and gay marriage for the last 10.

In short, you better pick someplace else that’s likely a tad bit less accessible by your immediate family. But then again, that might be inconvenient, huh?

Following Christ usually is. Suck it up, Buttercup.

Satan has everyone whipped up into a frenzy, with Christians doing everything but what Christ commanded them (we’ll cover that in a few moments) and doing it in such a way as to alienate anyone who might be riding the fence about coming to God. And while we watch the verbal firefights on social media and in the news, he fades back into the shadows and watches believers fall by the wayside and take their friends with them.

It’s a bad parlor trick that we fall for every time.

Same Sin, Different People

Point number two makes it pretty clear that sinners and Christians suffer from the same disease – sin.

You know, that’s the point above where it says the sin you consider little and the stuff you think the homosexual agenda is promoting is horrific are actually one and the same.

Let that sink in for a moment. Yeah, humans may think that being gay is worse than lying, or that murder is worse than gossip, and who really knows if God differentiates them or not. But what God has said is that if you break ONE law, you’ve broken them ALL. Not some or a few or a couple … ALL OF THEM!

So to make things easy on you, just stop worrying about what the other guys are doing. It’s not your business if men are marrying men, women are marrying women or if there are farm animals involved.

IT’S NOT YOUR BUSINESS!

Pray for your sins first and how you can improve yourself to avoid them in the future. Pray for your family and friends. Pray for guidance on how to be more useful in the Kingdom of God and how you might better serve your spouse.

And if you still have time and breath left, pray for the people making the choice to be homosexual or have transgender surgery. But I’d suggest making sure you spend more than three minutes on your knees, or you’ll be lucky to get done with your own issues, much less anyone else’s.

But I can tell you right now that your job on this planet has nothing to do with condemning, convicting or converting another soul.

Are we clear on that? Good, let’s move on.

Two Jobs, Hold the Condemnation Please

I love The Apprentice. Not because of ‘The Donald’ and his perplexing hairdo, but because I enjoy watching how people go about organizing themselves and accomplishing a task. And the team that loses each task seems to have a common theme – They didn’t do what Trump asked them to do.

And thus our problem here.

Christians, God has neither asked nor ordained you to condemn, convict or otherwise judge your fellow human. It’s your job to love. Period. End of story.

How do I know that? Because EVERYTHING a Christian does, according to Jesus, has to be done in love. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied,

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~ Matthew 22:37-40

If you think I’m wrong, maybe now would be a good time for a little backup from another source you might recognize …

Reverend Billy Graham

Reverend Billy Graham

See, it’s really simple. If you can’t find true love in what you are doing, saying or thinking, then don’t do it.

Calling names, threatening bizarre actions or wishing harm on folks because of something that happened either to, for or by them has no love in it and Christ has no part in it. Whipping people up into a frenzy about the world and causing them to not focus on their walk with God – no love in that and Christ has no part in it.

The fourth point above also indicates this, as people who are not followers of God’s only begotten son are already condemned. It’s already done. So what on earth makes you think that by you verbally or physically heaping coals on someone’s head that you’ll accomplish what God did not choose to accomplish?

In fact, God commanded that you do just the opposite.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.~ Psalm 25:21-22

Hmmm, guess this poses a little problem for those using that “Christian baker and a gay wedding” argument. Well, that’s for another discussion…

Listen, if you truly are a Christian and follow the one, true Lord of the universe, then no amount of anything you do will alter the course of history other than prayer. Pray without ceasing, as the Bible tells us. Instead of talking to yourself, talk to God. Not every prayer needs to have a dozen ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and flowery words in them. Just talk to God and let him know what you’re feeling and what’s going on.

He can and will do whatever he wants and he already knows everything you will ever want or need, but he absolutely loves the sound of your voice. So talk to him.

In closing, Christians stop acting the fool. It’s not your job to force a culture that you came from to live a life that you chose to follow and that they have not. Remember that, you made a CHOICE. And a choice straight from the heart is what unbelievers need to make for them to have an authentic, real relationship with Christ – just like the one you’re trying to have with him.

“… wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” ~ Matthew 13b-14

Drop the rhetoric, the misinformation and mistrust and put on the armor of God. Because without it you’re just another easy target for the Father of Lies to shoot at.

Let them eat cake.

Since Indiana’s “Religious Freedom” law was passed, it’s just getting weird up in here.

For some reason, the central debate seems to be over a Christian baker having to service a gay couple’s wedding. And in the discussions I’ve had, it all seems to be about who knows what and when they know it.

As I see it, the cake has nothing to do with someone getting married. It’s an optional part of the post-ceremony celebration. It has nothing to do with a couple – be it man-woman, man-man or woman-woman – getting legally married in any of the 50 United States or its territories.

If I’m wrong, please let me know.

If you don’t think so, then take Las Vegas, Nevada as example. There’s an average of 315 weddings per day (http://www.lasvegas-how-to.com/fun-facts.php) in Sin City, and most of those go off without a cake. In fact my guess more of them include Elvis than they do a cake.

And no, I will not be debating the religious validation of “The King” on the wedding vows. At least not today.

But the defense I hear is that if a gay couple came into a Christian baker’s shop, that the Christian would then know that the cake they were making is for a gay wedding and thus, violate their Christianity and causing them to sin. Those standing behind this equivocate baking the cake with participating in the marriage ceremony, and that’s where they lose me.

As far as I can tell, a marriage ceremony needs only a couple wanting to be wed, a marriage license, a witness and someone who is legally able to wed them. Some states require a blood test, but I think even that gets waived in some places.

Cakes are for the celebration of that event. So maybe that could be touchy, but I still don’t think so. Here’s why…

romans-323If it is the fact that a Christian knows that the cake they are making is being used for a gay wedding that is the crucial point – meaning they know it will be used by a sinful person(s) to celebrate a sinful event – then Christians cannot be businessmen. Why? Because Christians know that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

See Christians know that everyone, including themselves, are sinners. And if the qualifier as to whether or not you can sell to someone is their status regarding sin, then Christians have no one they can sell to – not even those of their own faith or particular denomination.

Sin has no hierarchy, therefore all sin is the same. So from a Christian standpoint, someone living a homosexual lifestyle is just as much a sinner as someone who lies, steals or even takes the Lord’s name in vain. And that’s just three of the Ten Commandments.

No, the issue as I see it is that Christians are once again attempting to legislate their faith rather than actually live it out. It seems like people of faith think it would be a lot easier to pass a law and force people to live they do – or at least the way they are supposed to be living – rather than live their lives in such a way as to cause people to choose God over life without Him.

See, if a Christian baker were to live their lives and run their business in such a way that God was honored in every aspect, then I find it very unlikely that gay people would even want to venture in the door. In fact, I’m pretty sure the God I serve is big enough to handle whatever comes down the pike in that regard.

I once owned a photography business and I sent out some emails to various club teams and programs asking if they might have need of a photographer for their events as well as team and individual shots. On the bottom of each email I included a Bible verse that we based on business on (“As in water face reflects face, So the heart of man reflects man. Proverbs 27:19).

One night I got a response from a gymnastics group stating that the club’s coach would love to use us, but that she didn’t do business with people who put Bible verses on their emails. I wrote back and told her that while I understood her choice, that we decided honoring God in our business was important. She sent several more terse communications and each time I told her we’d just have to agree to disagree.

We were by no means a big business and offering to cave might have gotten us the contract and some cash. But I felt we were better off honoring God.

Later that night a purchase came in for about $40 on an account that was more than a month old, a 911 event that we had shot in Las Vegas. I figured it was probably a straggler that just got around to ordering their images. But a few minutes later another came in, and another. In an hour we had done some $200 in business. And within the next 24 hours we did almost $1,000 total from an account that we thought had run its course.

God had something else in mind.

Christians – and I mean this in a loving way – get up off your butts and quit trying to force the world to live the way you chose to. God affords every sinner the opportunity to CHOOSE him. None of us were forced to be Christians, we chose to follow Christ. We chose it because we saw in someone else a way of life that we felt was better than what we had been living.

Quit trying to be lawyers and start being the light and salt of the world, shining so brightly that the darkness that’s left will simply fade away.

God doesn’t need more chefs in the kitchen making up their own recipes, he needs more delivery people getting the Bread of Life to starving masses.

Not Even Close

Religion (as defined by Meriam Webster)

1 a :  the state of a religious <a nun in her 20th year of religion>

   b (1) :  the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) :  commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2 :  a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic :  scrupulous conformity :  conscientiousness
4 :  a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

Watch that definition very closely, because it’s about to be changed.

Indiana’s new “religious liberty” law is anything but, essentially giving people carte blanche to discriminate againstReligious_Freedom-09cbc anyone if they don’t lineup with their personal beliefs. The law has, in essence, created personalized police state that allows any individual to be judge, jury and executioner if someone disagrees with them.

The law, signed into action my Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R), allows businesses to deny business to anyone who doesn’t fit into their personal set of beliefs. Notice I said beliefs and not religion, because it is in that fourth line of the definition that this law will find it’s doom – assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t strike it down before the ink dries.

And if you think I’m wrong, then you’ve never been in Indiana during basketball season as an opponent.

An article in The Daily Grind from March 28 relates how an Indiana business owner named Ryan called into 100.9 RadioNOW and professed his support of the new law, stating that he freely discriminated against the LGBT community. I’d love to tell you the man’s last name or that of his business, but he refused to give them.

Before I get into what I believe are the Christian ramifications of this law, let’s take a brief look at this particular business owners actions:

  1. Ryan (the business owner) thinks discriminating against the LGBT community because they are in sin is OK. Let’s run with that for a moment. I wonder if Ryan remembers the time before he was a Christian? You know, when he was a sinner. I wonder if he would have been OK with people discriminating against him then? And will he be OK when he walks into a place owned by someone in the LGBT community and they kindly tell him to get out because he doesn’t match up with their beliefs? Or would he be even more surprised to enjoy an excellent meal, only to have the owners tell him where he had been eating afterwards?
  2. Ryan’s personal convictions are so weak that after “bravely” calling the radio station to spout his nonsensical rhetoric and boast of his “religious” stance, he won’t tell the station his last name or what his business’ name or location is. Wow! What moral conviction! Plus he gets free air time and missed a chance at a major plug that, as we now see, would have gone nationwide. This guy is clearly a marketing genius too.
  3. Ryan’s faith is such (I will call it outright fake, cheap at best) that instead of telling people why he is discriminating against them, he lies to them. So not standing up for his ‘faith’ aside, that commandment about bearing false witness goes right out the window too.
  4. And assuming his has any measure of actual faith in him, when Ryan has people that he believes are in sin in his business, he ignores the one commission Jesus gave us in Matthew 28:19-20, saying “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I wonder if Ryan knows that Jesus came to earth and hung out exclusively with the sinners of the day, eating with them and ministering to them? I mean the only “quality” time that Jesus spent with the religious leaders of the day, they were in the process of trying to kill Him.

Christians are split on this matter and I feel it’s due to a concern about what they will have to give up in order to allow people who are not of their faith make a decision about Christ. What would they be giving up – the safety of their personal religious cocoon – the one Christ never intended us to have.

I have a friend named Greg who I have known since kindergarten. As the electronic age has come upon us and the miles between us have grown, Greg and I have taken to debating a number of issues through social media. We usually focus on politics and religion, so you can only guess that this new law was hotly debated just a few days ago.

Some Christians view the mere act of serving someone not of their faith as denying Christ and participating in that customer’s sin. For example, if you were a caterer and baked a gay couple a cake or food, that that constitutes taking part in their ceremony. Another might be a photographer taking pictures of that same wedding.

Others, like myself, think that it would require more than just providing the service. So in the case of caterer, I don’t wedding-cake-ideasfind an issue with a Christian baking a cake for a gay wedding or even serving the food, for that matter. But if they wanted me to serve it some plate with sexually suggestive images on it or wanted the cake to look like a phallic symbol, then I’m not the caterer for them. Likewise, as a photographer I’d have no issue taking the various images that you normally take at a wedding, including what are sure to be variances due to a couple being both men or both women. But if those images were to include anything suggestive, I’d have to tell that those are services my business does not provide.

The Apostle Paul clearly spoke to this matter in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Verses 20 and 21 are the keys as I see it. Verse 20 addresses those that are under the law (those of Jewish faith) and that we should become as though we under that law, even though we are not. The Jews are the extreme opposite of the LGBT community, adhering to laws and rules that we, as Christians, think were done away with by Christ and His sacrifice on the cross.

Verse 21 goes to the opposite end of the spectrum, saying that to those without any law we should also become like them – even though we are still under the law of God.

And that may be the sticking point. Just like when you were dating and minded all of the Ps and Qs you would later forget about after you got married, following the law of the Jews is easy for a short time to try and show them the salvation of Christ as we know it. But where do you draw the line going the other way?

Over the years I have made a number of friends who are gay and even have one family member who has expressed an interest in that lifestyle. We eat, we hang out, we do things together. But when it comes down to things like affection, we give a friendly hug and that’s it. When it comes time to eat, I say a prayer over my food quietly while they usually start chowing down.

See, what I think Christians today are forgetting is that becoming a Christian is a choice. God doesn’t force it on us, nor does He want to. God wants you to be under his guidance, care and discipline because we choose to be, not because we have to. And it is that choice, one that every Christian has to make (and no, you are not born into Christianity. But that’s a topic for another post) that they seem to forget that were allowed to make by God Himself. And it is a decision that, for some strange reason, they don’t want to let anyone else make for themselves.

If a person of the LGBT community coming into your business and buying a sandwich or a shirt is that threatening to your Christianity, then your faith isn’t worth a plug nickle. If all it takes is the mere presence of sin in someone else – and believe me, there is still sin in every Christian because none of us are perfect. NONE of us! – to throw you off track, then you better close your business, go home and plant your nose in your Bible and prayer 24/7.

God wants us in the world. He needs us in the world. We are His hands and feet, carrying the gospel to all of the lost, not just the people that we’re OK sharing it with.

In a time when the forces of the day were openly giving letters of authority to hunt down and kill Christians, God called the worst offender of them all to his ministry to preach His word. He preached it to the people of that time and to millions since.

His name was Paul.

Christ broke down all of the Christian faith into two commandments and one commission. The commission we covered above, but the first commandment is to love God with everything you have. The second was like it and was to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Notice is doesn’t say “fellow Christian” or “like believer”, it says neighbor. Your neighbor may be a Christian, or they may be gay, or lesbian or even worse in Indiana – a Michigan fan.

And finally, if you think that discriminating against the LGBT community is OK and a righteous thing to do, then I’m sure you’ll be just fine with it when they turn the tables on people of faith. Don’t think it will happen? Maybe you should take a gander at the book of Revelations:

It (the second beast) also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.” ~ Revelations 13:16-17

As Christians, I do not believe that we are afforded the luxury of ignoring the masses that do not share our faith. Christ’s Great Commission requires us to be in the world, but not of the world. It’s the only way that we can reach the lost. It was the only way that any Christian was ever reached with the Gospel.

I’m going to include links to two songs that I feel are very germane to the topic at hand. The first is from Steve Taylor and speaks to doing business with people who do not share our Christian faith. The second is from Petra and speaks to a Christians desire to sit safely inside their church, never reaching out to world around us.

 

When the labelmakers malfunction

Labels are funny things.

They carry a lot of information, but rarely anything we really need or want to know.

I am the son of a man who spent nearly every waking moment of his life assigning labels. A good portion of that was for his work as a mechanical engineer for the United States Navy as he worked on the creation of the Sidewinder Missile. Every drawing had to meticulously described so that they guys on the other end building the thing knew exactly what his intentions were.

graph_equation_lg_whtAt home, those same skills made digging up a simple flower bed for my mother a college-level class in drafting and geometric design. My mom would say, “Can you guys dig up that square in the backyard so I can plant some stuff?” That request hit my dad’s ears and translated into some set of postulates and theorems that even Pythagoras would cringe at.

Never did a woman have such an exactly measured place to go daisies.

But he also dealt in some other labels, ones that I’m fairly sure were left over from his life growing up during the depression and without a father after the age of eight. One that tended to pigeon hole people into little boxes that made him feel better, but that were grossly unfair.

I picked up the habit, but shied away form it later as I became victim of some of those same misplaced labels.

Yeah, I was a bigger kid than most, but I wasn’t as fat as they all made me feel. The litany of names I endured was lengthy and hurtful until one friend, Greg Markarian, hit on one my freshman year. Mixing my size with my affinity for the play of one Ervin ‘Magic’ Johnson he tagged me as Magic Gut. It stung at first, but became something of a badge of pride later.

But that’s for another day…

But I’m addressing labels as I am coming to believe they may be the lynch pin in our problems today. Maybe not all of them, but a darn good many of them.

See, when we place a label on someone, that tends to become our reality. We look at people in that light almost completely irrespective of anything else they might do.

political-partiesPut the issue of people being equally and fairly on the table for discussion, and everyone agrees its a good thing.

But assign parties at the table with religious monikers and its starts to get ugly. Toss in sexual preference and skin color and people start whipping out weapons- verbal and otherwise.

The topic didn’t change, but the perception of the people in the discussion did.

I witnessed this most recently when watching a television show. Being the end of the year the parties on screen were going over some of the various happenings from the year and in this one segment focused on people who got in trouble. They dinged Paula Deen and Phil Robertson to name a few, and cracked wise with one liners on each. At one point someone asked if the room would like to watch another channel, to which one person replied, “Yeah, I’ve had about enough these damned liberal yuppies!”

Now, the first bad assumption here is that the people on the screen were liberals. Yeah, it does seem like Hollywood tips that way on the political scales. But tossing that assumption on the table just muddy the waters. For as soon as that statement was made, Jane Lynch – an outspoken lesbian actress – immediately voiced her support for Duck Dynasty’s elder statesman saying something to the effect of “What did A&E think they were getting? He’s down-home, self-proclaimed redneck who prays at the end of every show. What did they think he was going to say?” (my paraphrase)

JaneLynchWhen I heard that it became apparent that Ms. Lynch and held the exact same viewpoint. And I, in fact, had said almost the exact same thing not a few weeks earlier.

And I’m just guessing here, but I can’t imagine that Lynch is one of Robertson’s biggest fans.

And of course we are all aware of the labels that hinder our political process. Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives, North, South, East and West and whatever tags you want to toss in there make getting anything done a virtual nightmare.

But it seems that, at least politically, people may be willing to start stripping off those titles.

In a January 2012 article, Gallup reported that a record high 40% of voters identified themselves as independents. That means at best that 60% of the remaining voters side with one of the two traditional parties, and we know they don’t all belong to one of them alone.

So during the presidential campaign from that same year when Mitt Romney made his now infamous statement about the 47%, that he ticked off a substantial portion of the voting public. He pigeon-holed a huge voting block with one statement – A statement that likely showed how he viewed what he perceived to be Democrats and that put the people who feel they are part of that crowd on edge against him.

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it — that that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. … These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” ~ Mitt Romney

Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s how it played out.

Oh, but don’t think I’m not gonna kick around in my own backyard a bit.

Christians, we’re way guiltier than the politicians. They do it for money, one of the oldest hooks in the book.

Christians? We do it for something far less laudable and far more sinful.

We do it for pride.

Christians place labels on folks all the time, forgetting that Christ told us not to judge each other. We always seem to forget that.

We keep forgetting that when Christ boiled down all of the law and commandments that they could all be summed up in just two. And that if we’d focus on just those two, we’d be in good shape and doing the Father’s will.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~ Matt 22:36-40

We label they as gay, lesbian, drug addicts, alcoholics, pornographers and the like. Yep, that may be what they do. But they are still God’s children and only as lost as any of us were before we came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

By labeling people we put them beneath us, because sure we wouldn’t have any such issues. And if they have issues and we are so superior, we really shouldn’t sully ourselves by talking, eating or (Heaven forbid) actually touching these folks. Its so much easier to legislate our morality and require them to act like us. Just like Jesus did with us, right?

What? He let us make a choice? Well I’m sure we can improve the system and make it easier and more efficient for them to ‘believe’ (aka conform). We’re Christ won’t mind.

We never say that, but that is exactly how we act. And as it dumb as it looks in print, its is a thousand times more offensive to those who have yet to truly consider Christ and make Him their Lord and Savior.

Labels work great on missile drawings, file cabinets and food stuffs.

But apply them to people and they never come out right.

Rumpled sheets are our own dang fault

Christians, we did this to ourselves.

And now the monster that WE created is coming back to bite us in the hiney.

The recent flap over A&E’s decision to put Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson on indefinite hiatus due to comments he made in a GQ Magazine interview is now the spearhead for Christians complaining that their First Amendment rights are being violated. And in this writers opinion, rightfully so.

But the outrage is being met with consternation from various groups who feel Robertson’s remarks about gays and lesbians are way out of line.

You make the call. The link to the entire article is above, but here is the excerpt that is drawing criticism and praise.

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

and later on …
Phil Robertson

Phil Robertson

“We’re Bible-thumpers who just happened to end up on television,” he tells me. “You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”

What does repentance entail? Well, in Robertson’s worldview, America was a country founded upon Christian values (Thou shalt not kill, etc.), and he believes that the gradual removal of Christian symbolism from public spaces has diluted those founding principles. (He and Si take turns going on about why the Ten Commandments ought to be displayed outside courthouses.) He sees the popularity of Duck Dynasty as a small corrective to all that we have lost.

“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Robertson gives his view of what he thinks a guy would find more interesting in a woman versus a man, nothing more. Yeah, Phil is nothing if not blunt, but he didn’t go out and head hunt anybody. He just gave his view. Period.

And when he continued with his assessment of repentance and how the world has gone wrong, he didn’t lash out against anyone. He simply stated what he believed and paraphrased Corinthians.

What’s truly comical here is that A&E acts as thought they had no clue that Robertson felt this way. I mean, how many shows have a negotiation where faith, family and duck season are immediately taken off the table by the stars?

Oh wait, didn’t the Kardashians do that?

Or was it the cast of the Real Housewives of Atlanta?

Remember, this is a blog and this is MY opinion. So get ready for both barrels.

Boycot A&E on Facebook

Boycot A&E on Facebook

A&E is copping out big time. This wasn’t a business decision. This smacks of pressure from a few people, maybe even within the company itself but more likely a handful of advertisers, who are headed by people in alternative lifestyle communities. They have a few bucks, a big mouth and feel like they can push the network around by threatening to make a ton of noise if A&E doesn’t drop the hammer on Robertson.

Unfortunately in today’s world its not what’s right that counts. Its who’s got the biggest megaphone or more Facebook likes.

In a statement issued Thursday, the Robertsons have pretty much drawn the line in the sand.

We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm.  We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty.

A&E has made a huge mistake. And with its most successful series being the Storage Wars franchise, they can only hope that their next round of show proposals is as salted as the storage lockers they buyers find.

But back to the point at hand – how is this the fault of Christians?

It’s really pretty simple. See, when we as Christians go out and condemn the world for their actions, we invite them to do the same to us. Mind me, I’m not talking about stating what we believe or even quoting Scripture as Robertson did. I’m talking about that judgmental attitude that we, as a whole, have carried around for years.

Where did that come from, because it certainly isn’t from God.

God gave us two simple commandments and one commission.

Commandment #1 – “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

Commandment #2 – “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Commission – “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Hmmm… No condemnation. No trying to legislate our faith and morality into the lives of others. No burning down abortion clinics or book burnings.

See, much like contestants that get fired on The Apprentice, we have strayed from our sole purpose – loving God, love people and telling those people about Him and His love.

We made out bed and now we’re forced to sleep in it. And the only way to get any semblance of normal back is to pray, be diligent and stay our ground in love.

Get ready folks, its going to be a bumpy night.

When the ‘right’ get it wrong

While the title may hint at a political column, this post is really much more than that.

Its about a level of arrogance that breeds extreme ignorance.

Its about having blinders on so big that even road ahead looks black as night.

Its about self-righteousness that has run so far amok that even the Klu Klux Klan begins to look like a bunch of moderates.

Ethnocentrism.

Dr. H. Bruce Stokes

Dr. H. Bruce Stokes

That word has had a huge impact on my life, having discovered it some time in the Fall of 1990 while sitting in a Cultural Anthropology class at California Baptist University. Dr. H. Bruce Stokes dropped that term on us a few week before Halloween that year and spoke for nearly 30 minutes on how it had led anthropologists and archaeologists alike on a number of wild goose chases.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines is being “characterized by or based on the attitude that one’s own group is superior.” Dr. Stokes explained further people will fight to the death defending something they have convinced themselves is real, or that they were taught falsely – even when the facts are clear to the contrary.

Its really sad when intelligent, experienced, well-educated adults allow themselves to be sucked in on such gullible tales only top repeat them as thought they were fact. Its disheartening when people lose the ability to think and research for themselves, but instead rely on some talking head from one news station to do it for them.

And people, this doesn’t just happen in politics. It happens in religion too.

People have been mislead by preachers spouting a “name it and claim it” Gospel, so much so that they blame God when theyName it! don’t get they want or get things their way. Rather than seek the will of God in matters, they pray for their preferred outcome to occur, and question God’s ability or presence when it doesn’t come about.

Let’s get this straight people – we serve God, not the other way around. God’s plan is God’s plan and we need to get on board with it or get out of the way. Why? Because He’s seen all the possible outcomes and knows the best way to get the job done. He is infinite, not finite. His is omnipresent, not just hanging out. He is omniscient, not just good at guessing what card you picked from the deck.

Remember that Jesus told us that all of the law – not some of it, part of it or just the stuff we read – can be boiled down into just two commandments. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV)

Judging people for the purpose of condemning them? Sorry, not in our job description.

Shunning people because they don’t think or act like we do? Not in there either.

Forcing people to live according to God’s word? Nope, not part of our duties.

Then just before He left, Jesus gave us what is termed as the Great Commandment: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'” (Matthew 28: 18-20, NIV)

Now it seems to me that with Jesus proclaiming that “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He couldThinking Monkey have given us any number of tasks, jobs or game plans to carry out. And as His followers, as Christians, we would have the authority and the power to carry them out. I mean really think about this, He could have said…

“Go out and end world hunger!” or

“Go make everyone a Christian!” or

“Hate everyone who doesn’t follow my laws!”

But he didn’t say ANY of those things or anything like any of those things.

Jesus told us to go out and make disciples all nations; to make them students and hopefully followers of his teachings. Remember the two commandments, so whatever we do we must do in love. So everyone on the planet, from the tall to the small, must make a choice to follow Jesus. We can’t make it for them, no matter how bad a choice we think they are making.

That includes people who choose to be gay.

That includes people who choose to commit abortion.

That includes murderers, rapists and even the lowliest liar.

No sin is blacker than any other. So whatever you’re doing that is outside of God’s will – and that you make excuses for – is just as bad as the worst sin ever committed. And while that may sound condemning, it can also be a source of great hope. Because no matter what sin you’ve committed, Christ still sits waiting for you to come to Him and choose the life that He wants to give us. Life that is abundant and full and riuch in every way imaginable.

Christ never said it would be easy. But you can bet that it will be well worth the effort.

So I challenge you thin think for yourself. Don’t let some writer or news monkey be your only source. And certainly don’t let this writer be your only source. Read, research and best of all pray for yourself. If you truly let God lead you, He will never lead you wrong.

Moving Forward

Six years doesn’t seem like a long time.

It’s longer than the life of your average band and most TV series.

But six years in the life of a fledgling church that has walked a long and winding road seems a lot longer when you start looking back at where you’ve been.

This Sunday will mark the 6th anniversary for The River A Christina Church in Las Vegas. And it is one that, after some trials that would have staggered most mega churches, seems to be celebrating a rebirth as it moves forward.

River-Video-LogoI came to The River in the Spring of 2010, having just met my soon-to-wife online and getting ready to start a new life. My first visit was one marked by meeting senior pastors Ed & Lorri Conover. Lorri greeted me briefly with an effervescent smile and a hug. I only met Ed for a moment as he was in what would prove to be the final stages of a battle with cancer. He passed about five days after that encounter while I was back at home packing to make the move.

Unbeknownst to me at that time, Lorri had also been diagnosed with cancer, a battle she fought until June of this year when the Lord called her home. My last moments with her were spent with my wife holding her hand and my reading the book of James to her, Ed’s favorite.

Losing one pastor is a lot for any church to handle, but losing two is usually has people packing up and moving on.

But The River family has instead closed ranks and chosen to stay true to the call given their founding pastors six years prior.

As the last three years have passed I have become intimately involved with the administration of the church. It started with volunteering in the sound booth when its director left. I came in to help out and four weeks later was placed in charge of it.

A few months later I was the church “historian” (for lack of a better word), asked to record all of the events and what not through photography.

In the last year and a half I have taken on the roles of marketing and web administrator.

They keep me around much longer and they’re going to have sign some deeds over to me or something.

But as we prepared for Sunday’s celebration, I tried finding a theme for graphics and what not that I might circulate through our social media outlets. And so I looked at what the expected gifts might be for such an anniversary.

Traditional: Candy and Iron.

Modern: Wood.

Someday somebody is gonna have to explain who came up with that stuff and why, but that is for another day.

But as I pondered those items it became clear that they were very appropriate for The River in this season.

No doubt, it has been a very bittersweet six years. The creation of a church and being involved in such wide-ranging events as The Sound and Passion Play were certainly high marks. The loss of two pastors and the travails that come with not having your own building, not so much. Like a bag of Halloween candy, there’s always some you can’t wait to get to and other s you hope your parents will take.

The resolve that The River family has shown in this season is inspiring. Like Iron being forged in a fiery furnace, it may be shaped and bent to the master’s end purpose. But when it is done it will be stronger for it and be more useful than the lump of mineral components could have ever been.

And when building for the future, as The River is now, it requires a good foundation and framing. It requires that it be done right and that it be done with craftsmanship so that it stands the tests of time. So that when the storms come, and they will come again, that it will not be blown down or torn asunder by the shifting sands.

Six years. Seems like a long time. But in the scope of what The River was called to do, it’s but a blink of an eye.

And those eyes are only looking ahead as we move forward.

When we’re really all in the family

Lately I’ve been researching my family tree and it’s been quite interesting.

Malcolm MacDonald & Family circa 1913In the last two months since I really got into it, I was finally able to find the birthplace of my grandma MacDonald. Just getting there was a task, but thanks to the Internet and Facebook, I was able to find so much more.

I actually found pictures of her as a child, as well as her brothers, sisters and father – my great grandfather.

And once that door opened up, I was able to start seeing connections to people in the past that I’d never known. And interestingly enough, some I did know.

I found that I was related to the likes Robert The Bruce, Charles Martel and even Charlemagne.

Finding yourself attached to those folks is somewhat sobering. But this weekend it might have gotten even better.

I was searching for pictures of these new-found family members when I found a web site that linked members of this royal chain even farther back than I expected. I knew I didn’t have time to enter in all the data, so I just started clicking through the father’s names until I hit one I recognized.

Isaac (Ishaq) ben Abraham.

That seemed a little coincidental, so I glanced over at his wife’s name and found it to be Rebekah. One more look and I found that his father’s name was Abraham and his mother’s Hagar.

And it suddenly dawned on me that – according to this one web site – I had a direct lineage to the father of Israel. Not just any Abraham but the Abraham.

Of course you make enough clicks backward and you end up with a nice pair of newly weds (and newly createds, for that matter) named Adam and Eve who were having some housing issues.

It dawned on me at that point that what I had always thought to be true with the story of Noah, was true all the way around.

We’re all family.

Think of all of the evil in the world today. Greed. Theft. Envy. Lust. Murder. Wars. This list is practically endless.

And when we think we’ve just about reached the end, we always seem to come up with a new spin on an old sin or something completely out of the blue.

But what is we thought of each other as family.

As a child considering the saga of Noah, it occurred to me that everyone on the planet must be able to trace the ancestral roots back to one of Noah’s three sons and then to Noah. That no matter our skin color, race or sports team affiliation we are all related.

Think about that for a moment.

That guy who cut you off in traffic and gave you the bird.

That woman that called trying to collect a bill.

Congressmen.

All of them – and yes, even the Congressmen – are your brothers and sisters. They may be a few times removed, but we are all part of one family. The family of man.

And it was for that reason that God sent the Son of Man to atone for our sins. Because to make amends for the seemingly endless array of things we have done and will continue to each other, He had to send a member of the family to get it right.

Am I directly linked to Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. Well, if I believe the story of Noah then I must be somehow. But whether or not I am in their bloodline means little in that we are all one race, under God and we really ought to start acting like it.

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