Monday, November 23, 2015

For God to Heal our Land!

            In many Christian circles both prayer and proclamation lift the verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14 with great passion.  “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
            It is with good reason! Our land is hurting and in deep need of God’s divine healing. Appropriately, this admonition from God addresses the critical fact that the sin and wickedness in our life as a nation has direct—and disastrous—effects on our health as a nation and as a global community. If we are going to call on God to heal our land, to heal our nation, and to heal our human community, it is vital that we are also forthright in changing our wicked ways. Below is a list of ten vital sins of wickedness that are destroying our land. If Christians are going to take 2 Chronicles 7:14 seriously—and we most certainly should take it seriously—these ten wicked acts must be eliminated across the land.

The wickedness and sin of Sodom—Failure to welcome the stranger and those in need. (Ezekiel 16:49)

The wickedness and sin of ReligionWorshipping the religion rather than serving God (Micah 6:6-8)

The wickedness and sin of Exclusion—Failure to care for those in need (Matthew 25:31-46)

The wickedness and sin of Economic Injustice and Inequality—exploitation of the poor and those in need (Amos 2:6-8)

The wickedness and sin of Violence—Using violence to achieve dominance and destroy (Matthew 26:52)

The wickedness and sin of Consumerism—Defining our value and through the things we can own and the wealth we can control (Matthew 6:19-21)

The wickedness and sin of Posturing—Bolstering toughness, authority, and arrogance (James 4:11-16)

The wickedness and sin of Judging—Looking down on others as less than you (Matthew 7:1-5)

The wickedness and sin of Control—The desire to “lord it over” others and maintain total control (Matthew 20:20-28)

The wickedness and sin of Hating the Enemy—Bowing to a culture of hate and contempt for human beings we believe are at eminently with us (Matthew 5:43-47)

These are national sins as well as personal and individual sins. They are expressed as wickedness in our homes and offices, school yards and town squares. They permeate the culture to infect many aspects of business, government, and even the church. They are fueled by social media, fear-based politics, and biased media attention. Like a cancerous infection, this wickedness is spreading through the culture and the church. It is time that the people of faith intentionally humble ourselves and pray and seek God’s face and turn from our wicked ways.

Our faith in Jesus Christ calls for no less, and empowers us for so much more. We need only follow—truly and honestly follow—Jesus Christ.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

It's time for Christians to Be Christians!

21  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22  On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?' 23  Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'” Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)    

            These words of Jesus Christ strike at the heart of a critical problem in much of what passes for Christianity. Although nothing new, it is a problem that has been exacerbated lately in the news, social media, across many state capitols, and the halls of Congress ever since the horrific terrorist attacks in France last week. As Christians, we would do well to ask the question, “Will Jesus know us in judgment or send us away as evildoers?”

            It is disgraceful what has been done under the guise of Christianity in our modern culture.

·       Whole populations of human beings are written off as less than deserving of human dignity because of the actions of a small minority within their population.
·       Faith in guns and fidelity toward our rights to own and use deadly force garners more passion than fidelity to values molded by Jesus Christ.
·       Religious devotion to partisan politics frequently marries fidelity to Christ with loyalty to partisan ideals.
·       Freedom of Religion and evangelical priority are increasingly enforced by Christians as the right and obligation to impose our religion on people we do not like.
·       Believers define their relationship with Christ in terms of issues and stances, rather than service, gratitude, compassion, grace, and love.
·       We have become so obsessed with saving souls for Jesus that we fail to care for lives in Jesus’ name.

This is not Christianity. This is not the faith Jesus demonstrated to us. This is not way God calls us to faithfully follow as disciples of Jesus Christ. Rather, what we have made Christianity is nothing more than a shallow, superficial, and narcissistic religious doctrine of destruction that is rooted in fear, lived in anger, and focused on control. It is one thing to vigilantly call out the sinful distortions of the Islamic faith by those who would use terrorism as a means to promote their own perverted understanding of Islam, but as Christians we must also take a prayerful look in the mirror and do the same! For the sake of our salvation, there are some things that must change!
1.     Reclaim the biblical teachings regarding fear.

The explicit message of scripture is that we are not to live in fear. “Perfect love casts out all fear,” the Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:18. In other words, if we live out of Christ and Christ’s love, there is no need to be afraid. The only times fear is used in a positive light is in reference to fearing God. Yet, even then, the word ‘fear’ is not mean that we should be afraid of God, but filled with immeasurable awe, respect, and admiration for God. It is time that Christians genuinely start living in faith, not fear. Fear is destructive and leads to the idolatry of power, violence, money, and even the glorification of war.

2.     Live the life to which we have been called.

In the Fourth Chapter of Ephesians, we are called to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. It is a calling to humility, gentleness, and bearing one another in love. Amid that sacred calling is the explicit demand for Christians to be united in love and grace. This fulfills the New Commandment Christ gave in the Upper Room that we are to love as Christ loves. We may disagree on aspects of doctrine, tradition, worship style, and political issues, but that does not give us the freedom to abandon our Christian Calling of humility, gentleness and love simply to prove who is right and who is wrong.

3.     Care for those in need.

To live and love as Christ lived and loved is to risk vulnerability. Refugees, the poor, orphans, and those in need of God, God’s love, and God’s provisions must be the focus of our mission and ministry. The Apostle James makes this explicit in the second chapter of James where he tells Christians to remember, “Faith without works is dead.” It is not enough to believe in Jesus Christ or express our praise in joyous worship on Sunday morning or in fervent prayer. We must go into the world and do the Lord’s work. Jesus underscores this reality in vivid terms when preaching in Matthew 25:31-46. It was those who failed to minister to those in need who met harsh judgment by Christ.

            It is really simple. Christians are not behaving in a very Christian way. It is nothing new. Our religious history is filled with perversions of God’s love that would make an ISIS terrorist seem mild. Thankfully, God’s grace is greater than our religious stupidity and sinful narcissism. Yet, as Paul so eloquently points out in Romans 6, if we are sincere in our baptisms into Jesus Christ, we must also put to death those things which detract from an authentically Christian life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul continues with vivid examples in Romans 8 that must serve as vital examples of how we are to live! This teaching is further emphasized in Galatians 5:16-26, Ephesians 4:17-5:2, and the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches in Revelation 2 and 3.

            Christians! It is time we stop making a hypocritical mockery out of the faith we love so much and start living the life Christ died to make possible. Otherwise, we may find it is you and I that Christ sends away because he did not know us 

Friday, September 11, 2015

9/11 It's Time To Forget!

It has been 14 years since the dreaded attacks known to history as 9/11. The sad thing is, as I sit and reflect on all that has happened the last 14 years I am struck by the disturbing reality that Osama bin Laden may actually be winning.

In the days immediately following the tragic attacks there was a genuine sense of American pride and unity—but it was very short-lived. We grieved as a nation and the world grieved with us at the inconceivable evil that had been launched against so many innocent people. Before long, President Bush stood at Ground Zero and proclaimed those responsible would soon be running in fear.

In a groundswell of vengeful fervor Congress quickly abdicated their constitutional responsibility to hold the authority of war declaration. Then, with shouts of patriotic zeal and flag waving prowess, we rallied behind our President to send volunteer soldiers to fight wars of revenge paid for on credit. We blindly trusted in the idea that that guns and bombs alone would somehow right the wrong that had been done to us.

Predictably, and perhaps appropriately, the emotional zeal that started these tragic wars quickly eroded. Our national life returned normal. Patriotism was redefined as simply sporting a “we support the troops” bumper sticker or flying the American flag. As a nation we were genuinely happy to honor the brave men and women sent to Iraq and Afghanistan and thank them for their service, but the vast majority of eligible young Americans would never see combat, never know a draft, and never truly sacrifice for the war effort. Contents to accept the lies that a war could be fought on credit, America cruised ignorantly along rejoicing that in some ways the wars had added catalyst to the American economy and people became richer. Tragically, those who had been heavily invested in war industries became exceptionally rich off the carnage and devastation of our revenge.

Yet, as we were getting a stronger economy and patting ourselves on the back for supporting the troops that were fighting for us, brewing beneath the surface of our American culture was an increasingly heightened sense of fear and anger. Like a festering wound, this hatred and fear was slowly growing in its infectious waste and preparing to release its toxic venom into the nation as a whole. Traditional political divisions between left and right became significantly wider. A politics of triumphalism usurped the capacity or willingness for leaders to work in bipartisan partnerships for the good of the nation. Those who increasingly opposed the war were loudly shout down by those who felt it was our national obligation to destroy our enemy. Fueled by populist media and grounded in fear that “those people” would ruin “our way of life,” the hatred slowly festered as the economy grew by leaps and bounds.

Ultimately, our national economy collapsed and the hate-filled political frenzy that followed saw the election of President Obama and the bitter retaliation of all who opposed that election. On a level of epic and historical proportions the political discourse became increasingly more divisive and polarized. “Patriotism” became fundamentally married to political affiliation and the only “true” Americans were then decided according to political preference rather than our shared national heritage.

Today we live in America that is more divided than at any time since the American Civil War. Yet rather than divided strictly along geographical lines of North and South, we have bifurcated whole communities into absolutist combatants for control of our nation. Racism continues to destroy lives on epic levels. Hatred is destroying the lives of police officers murdered simply for wearing their uniform. Schools, movie theaters, and urban highways have become random grounds of senseless violence and hatred. Economic inequality deepens as the nation’s most wealthy increasingly divide from the most impoverished and the vast middle becomes stretched thinner and thinner.

Among the sorted goals of Osama bin Laden was to divide America in his evil hopes that such division would bring about our collapse as a nation. It would be naïve to think that the 9/11 attacks alone created the catastrophe in which we live today. But it is also historically relevant to note that this 14th anniversary marks the definitive beginning of a long, fear-driven, and hate-fueled slide into our own national disgrace.

Rather than simply “never forget,” as the saying goes, perhaps it is time that we do forget a few things so that we can truly reclaim what Osama bin Laden took away from us.

Let us forget the rage. Our anger and rage over something tha t happened 14 years ago does nothing to either resolve the issues at hand or bring healing to the land. All it does is serve to fuel further hatred, fear, and animosity.

Let us forget the revenge. Our violent revenge has ravaged 2 countries and left them more unstable than they were 14 years ago. Our revenge has put us at odds with many nations that would be our friends. Our revenge has cost countless billions of dollars and, much more seriously, hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. Our revenge only played in to the evil that was unleashed upon us 14 years ago.

Let us forget the stereotypes. It is a sad commentary to realize that the majority of Muslims killed in our wars of revenge were not enemies of the United States but were actually those who also, bin Laden himself considered to be less than pure Islamic. Yet, stereotyping entire races, ethnicities, and religious preferences as being evil, we have actually emboldened those who would find reason to hate Americans.

Let us forget the hate. It was hatred that brought upon the 9/11 disaster. And that hatred so the seeds of a national hatred that not only launched two unnecessary wars, but is also a hatred that has worked its way inwardly and is destroying the very fabric of our nation. Once such hatred was unleashed without impunity, it was only natural that like a cancer it would begin to destroy us.

The 14th anniversary of this epic moment in American history gives us the perfect time to remember, and perhaps most importantly, to forget. In forgetting let us hold fast to what God calls us to remember—we are to love one another as Christ first loved us. In forgetting the rage, revenge, stereotypes, and hatred, we will begin to not only embrace God’s love a new but will turn the dangerous slide of Osama bin Laden’s victory into a greater victory for all that is good, holy, and decent.

14 years ago today the power of hate changed the world. As we appropriately remember this tragic anniversary it is vitally important that we remember hatred is not the means by which we may overcome the devastating power of hatred. If God's love is not allowed to prevail then hatred will win the day.

What is your choice?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Desecration Cuts Both Ways and Both are Wrong

Once again a viral video has galvanized individuals in a firestorm of fury and a nationalistic outrage. Air Force veteran Melissa Manhart approached a protest where an American flag was apparently being desecrated by the protesters. In an act of patriotic fervor self-righteous nationalism, Ms. Manhart took the flag and refused to return it to the protesters. Each side claimed to be the rightful owners. The protesters claimed she was stealing their property and she claimed she was protecting the public property of all Americans from disgraceful desecration. The Internet video of the incident shows the ensuing argument as heated disputes regarding ownership, patriotism, and proper treatment of the flag were interspersed with the cries of racism, bigotry, and police injustice. In the end, Manhart was arrested and the flag returned to the protesters while scorns of the police failure to defend the flag were railed at the uniformed by bystanders. It was all the kind of theatrics that makes videos go viral.

In watching this outrageous viral video make its rounds through the Internet, on blogs and Facebook, I cannot help but feel immensely distraught and discouraged at the flagrantly unchristian response to this incident.

Please do not misunderstand. I do not support the public desecration of our national symbol. Yet I also fervently believe that the brazen behavior of Ms. Manhart is actually more offensive then whatever the original protest was so ignorantly trying to communicate. Ultimately, for me it begs the question, where is Christ amid such an inane conflict?

Christians are called in Christ to stand for justice, equality, and righteousness. Although we may rightfully demonstrate justifiable patriotism and appropriately express loyalty to, and reverence for, the symbols of our nation, nothing in Scripture supports the Christian support of such volatile behavior theatrical grandstanding simply to protect a piece of cloth that ultimately has no power or no authority. It disheartened me to see professing Christians defend the behavior of this woman in the rationalization that the flag deserves such arrogant, rude, and unchristian protection.
At the root of the issue lies the fact that such grandstanding and polarizing behavior does nothing to support one’s cause over and against alternative perspectives. In reality, it serves only to galvanize highly politicized opinions and entrenched attitudes of hatred and anger. Those who would promote the desecration of the flag will find no sympathy for why its symbolism is so important to those who would defend against its desecration. Those who are originally protesting through the desecration of the flag are in no means willing to come to an understanding, thus making mutual dialogue impossible.

To put it rather bluntly, in my opinion, both sides were wrong. When protesters publicly and dramatically desecrate an American flag, it is clearly an act intended to evoke strong (and highly reactive) emotion. It is also, coincidentally, a protected form of free speech in our country. As such, free speech may not be something that we particularly like or approve of, but that freedom is a constitutional right. Such rights, also demand responsibility; but more importantly, such rights come with an acute awareness of the consequences of exercising that freedom. Those who were protesting by using the flag received exactly what exactly what they wanted—lots of attention. The irony is, they got their attention because of the behavior of one who disagreed with their approach. Had Ms. Manhart left them alone their protest would have never reached national attention.

The firestorm of fury. This incident has unleashed upon the world is indicative of the greater problem we face as a human community, as a church, and as a nation. It is clearly indicative of our unwillingness to speak to one another. Our passionate rage is driven by anger toward those who see the world differently and that does not lead to healing and wholeness. Our angry desire to speak down to others and shout out to overpower those with whom we disagree does nothing to foster the values that make America great. In fact, it is such a values that will ultimately destroy this nation that we so love. Most of all, such volatile insolence toward others disgraces Christ.

As a faithful Christian, a proud veteran, and proud supporter of the American flag, I would ask those who were protesting through the desecration of the flag to find a more effective means of dialogue rather than resorting to childish shock value theatrics that clearly only offend and divide rather than unite or educate. I would also tell Ms. Manhart that she needs to get over her idolatrous obsession with a piece of fabric and focus her well-intended passions and energies on constructive dialogue and faithful prayer in order to change her world for the better. If that is what patriotism looks like, we do not need any patriotism at all. Her behavior is a disgrace to the flag. As a nation, and as Christians, if we allow such behavior to fuel more rage, more self-righteous arrogance, and more hatred, we serve only to sow the seeds of our own destruction.

It’s time we stop the grandstanding and start listening to one another.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Indiana’s RFRA is Only the Tip of a Much More Dangerous Issue

Yes, Indiana has passed a law that some heard as a statement in favor of religious freedom. Others have challenged it as a form of legalized discrimination. At issue is not so much religious freedom but the ability for businesses to openly engage in discriminatory practices against people out of religious conviction. With all due respect to all involved in this firestorm of controversy, this morning Indiana lawmakers have released changes to the law that are intended to clarify and define it as explicitly non-discriminatory. These much-needed changes, however, only place a small band aid on hemorrhaging wound the initial passage of RFRA has created. It is important to understand why this law, regardless of intent, has divided us along such vicious lines.

            RFRA laws have been in effect since President Bill Clinton first initiated the federal law in 1993. The intent and structure of the law was to provide protection to individuals facing violations of their religious freedoms. For example, a person wishing to not be compelled to work on Sunday in order to attend worship services could use the federal RFTA to protect the right to worship without penalty. The law was designed to protect individuals from discrimination from organizations, businesses, and government solely on the basis of religious faith.

            Indiana’s law took the law to a whole new level. The original statute radically changed the language from protecting “individuals” to protecting “persons.”  It then goes on to define persons as individuals, organizations, partnerships, and corporate entities and various forms of businesses. In other words, Indiana’s law no longer protects individual people in upholding their free exercise of religion. It protects business owners and corporations from exercising religious priority. It screams of the Hobby Lobby case from last year which essentially understands that a company has the same rights as an individual person—a dangerous trend that is actually eroding individual freedom in favor of corporate rule!

            At the core of the controversy lies a very dangerous, two-edged sword of absolute fear.

·       Many people who have felt the scourge of discrimination feel the unbelievable fear that an individual is powerless to stand against the forces of hate and oppression of large entities. Call the discriminating entities the church, a restaurant, or a large corporation, the law strikes fear into the hearts of those whose genuine humanity has been threatened by hate and discrimination.
·       Many people feel that the moral and fundamental faith foundations of their religious faith are fundamentally threatened because of sweeping changes in our nation’s understanding of marriage. They feel a tremendous fear the world as we know it is about to destroy their way of life and all the moral, religious, and theological priorities they hold dear.

Yet, in transcending the fears, there is a more foundational realty that this law—in both its original form and currently proposed fixed state, fails to understand—simple humanity! In-so-much as every human being is truly endowed with the imaginable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that fundamentally requires that the laws of the land uphold the basic humanity of all—regardless of religious priority, as well as ethnicity, gender, age, education, occupation, income, gender identity, sexual orientation, or … whatever.

Putting it into real practice comes down to some of the real issues that have fueled this debate. Hypothetically speaking, if a couple wants to get married and they choose to have pictures made of the wedding it is because they want to share in the simple cultural and human joy of looking back at wedding photos and remembering the start of their life together in matrimony. What difference should it make if the couple happen to be of the same, or perhaps, opposite gender? Yet, when a professional wedding photographer says to them that their wedding does not deserve photographic attention, it is not simply a denial of service. It is a denial of their humanity.

            The changes to the law, assuming they are approved by the Indiana State Legislature and signed by the Governor, are a big step in the right direction, but as they presently exist, they still betray a fundamental belief that only flesh-and-blood human beings have human and religious rights. Corporations are property, not people. The law must understand that and nothing short of a complete repeal of Indiana’s RFRA will uphold this.

            Unfortunately, this one state law is only the tip of a very large iceberg that has the potential to rupture far more than a few feathers in the Indiana State Capitol. Recent Supreme Court rulings granting individual rights and freedoms to corporate entities, and the vast blessing of vast corporate wealth to speak without impunity threatens to undermine our society in ways far greater than gay wedding pictures.

Yes, this issue has sparked a lot of emotional energy. But, as such issues tend to be, it will fade from the news as quickly as it emerged and our media-driven political culture will find a new cause to shout for or against in no time. Likewise, the Indiana law may stand as is, it may get “fixed,” and it may get repealed. Anything’s possible. What’s important is that we take hard and long look at the direction this nation is going in terms of the rights of an individual person, created in God’s image and called good, versus the rights corporations, corporate wealth, and corporate power over-and-above real people. That is the bigger issue! 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Be the Change You Most Desire

            The person you have working for you simply does not meet your expectations. Your children are not following the path you know is best for them. Your church leaders seem to be taking the congregation down a path that makes you uneasy. Your best friend supports a political candidate that you do not trust. Your spouse does not connect with you the way you once enjoyed. Your job has you feeling you will never get the satisfaction you desire. The debt collectors are demanding more than you have to give. You look in the mirror and simply do not like what you see. Your mind is clouded with half-started projects, the clutter of everyday life to the point where you simply do not know what to do. In simple terms, you know that something needs to change.
            In one way or another, every one of us can identify with at least one of these statements. It is part of our human nature to see things around us that we believe are not right and urgently desire to fix them. Our responses may vary, depending on the situation, but they all reflect our growing sense of frustration.
            Some may micromanage others and dictate to them their every move, thought, or action in order to correct their errors and fundamentally bring about the desired change. Perhaps, amid the frustration and anxiety of the moment, we get angry. In that case perhaps we verbally, or in extreme cases, physically chastise the person we want to change in hopes of making them realize their wrong and motivate them for future change.  In the opposite extreme, we simply give up on the individual and begrudgingly do it ourselves with the belief that it is really the only way to get things done right.
            In another case, if the problem is within our own lives, it is easy to blame. Blame others for or problems, blame the job for our discouragement, blame the boss for being a jerk, blame the world for being unfair, or simply sulk in anger because it seems as if all the cosmic forces are working against me and my happiness. The result is bitterness and depression.
            All of these approaches may have their place to a point. In all honestly, we have probably all used these approaches at some time or another. We use these methods because they have been used on us and a large part of our society has taught us that this is the way to effect the change we want in life. It is a change brought on by force, anger, manipulation, blame, and control.  Sometimes it works; frequently, it does not. In the worst case scenario, it may actually bring about the very opposite result. Rather than positive change, it fosters negative rebellion and mires us in the mud of despair.
            A powerful model for change is Jesus Christ. Clearly, when he spent three years preaching and teaching, change and transformation was a significant part of his message. Without any disrespect to the rich Jewish traditions from which he came, Jesus called his followers to change to a new way of being. Rather than blindly adopting and applying arbitrary rules of a religion, Jesus encouraged positive change that transcended religious purity and fidelity. Jesus was about relationship.
            His method of affecting change, however, was never one of coercion or force. When Jesus corrected another or pointed out the wrongs and evils of the world in which he lived, he did so with compassion and grace. Most importantly, Jesus never required anybody to change, only gave the example, empowered them with the tools, offered the means to use his strength for the process, and valued the individual enough to let them rise or fall on their own terms. Finally, Jesus never blamed his problems on others, but took full accountability for himself.
            Too often we forget this subtle reality of Jesus’ dynamic leadership. In churches we run the dangerous risk of forcing our doctrine on others because we know we are right and want them to change according to what we dictate to them. In the midst of this power-trip that we call the church, the Gospel is sacrificed in the name of doctrine.

            The model of Christ in making needed and Godly change in the world is one of loving service, humble prayer, and faithful obedience—not control, domination, or blame. As Christians, let us all seek to serve out of love and bring about much-needed change through Jesus rather than our doctrinal control. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Giving It Up for Lent

           What shall we give up for lent?  This week there are many Christians that will observe Ash Wednesday and the customary season of Lent that follows. Done correctly and in good faith, this practice can truly be one of the most rewarding experiences in a Christian’s journey. Done incorrectly or without adequate prayer, the Lenten fast will disappoint. Certainty, God loves us so much that we can hold fast to the hope; God wants us to triumph in Lent!
            Lent and Ash Wednesday originated in the Second Century as an intentional time of purification, preparation, and prayer anticipating the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. Over time, it grew from being a few days in duration, to the customary 40 day observance that is common today. The designation of 40 days comes from the Biblical symbolism of 40 as a time of purification and preparation.  Moses and Elijah each fasted 40 days prior to meeting God on the mountain. Jesus fasted 40 days in the desert prior to starting his public ministry. In the days of Noah, the purifying rains fell for 40 days, thus bringing on the flood. In order to prepare the people of God for entry into the Promised Land, God had the Hebrews wander in the desert for 40 years. Additionally, after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he remained on earth in his resurrected body for 40 days in preparation for his ascension into heaven.
            The actual season of Lent begins 46 days before Easter Sunday. On Ash Wednesday, Christians may gather in various churches to receive the symbolic reminder of our own mortality with the sign of a cross on the forehead from consecrated ashes. Commonly, the ashes are created from burning the palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. The ashes serve as a solemn reminder that our life on this earth is limited, yet crowned in resurrection. Our goal, therefore, is to live life as faithfully as possible, living out of our genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.
            The actual 40 days of Lent are calculated by taking the 6 weeks following Ash Wednesday and excluding Sundays. Traditionally, the Sunday worship is considered a feast day and a day of unquestioned celebration of God’s love so they were excluded from the Lenten count many centuries ago.
            The Lenten fast itself is more governed by personal prayer or confession than any explicit set of rules or scriptures. The basic guideline is to give up something that an individual can identify as a hindrance or stumbling block to faith. Some fast from TV, Internet, or Social Media. Some from news. Others may choose a food item such as meat or candy. Others may choose to fast from intimacy with their spouse, participation in a particular activity, or from certain behaviors.
            The object of the fast, however, is not as important as the reason for the fast. Physical, Spiritual, and Emotional purity before God, drawing closer to God, or rededicating ourselves to God are ideal reasons to declare a fast.  For example, if one fasts simply to lose weight or to quit smoking, they may be fine ideas for health reasons, but the primary focus in on the individual rather than on God. Yet, if someone wishes to have more energy, physical ability, time and money to devote to God and the cost of smoking or the drain of poor physical fitness is an issue, such a fast has great potential. 
            Additionally, when a person gives up something for Lent, it is important that the time, money, energy, or devotion previously invested in what has been given up be reinvested in prayer, study of the Scriptures, and worship. Most importantly, it must not be an arbitrary decision or one chosen because we want to fit in with others. In planning your Lenten fast, pray earnestly, seek Godly council of a trusted mentor in the faith, and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Remember, God will rejoice in your triumph—a triumph that God will make possible through your faith! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Valentine's Day Love

Love is in the air!

(And a ton of candy, flowers, dinner plans, movie dates, and all manner of romantic expectations. In fact, according to a study quoted by Nasdaq, the economic value of Valentine’s Day this year is expected to peak around 417.3 Billion! That’s a lot of money spent on love.)

For all the romantic expectations placed on this Saturday’s annual celebration of love, not to mention the unbelievable amount of money that will be invested in the occasion, it is no insignificant date on our cultural calendar. The question is, do we really get it?

I love Valentine’s Day, but I also think we need to be honest with ourselves as a culture and admit that we have probably lost the genuine meaning of the event amid our rampant consumerism, our obsession with sex and sexuality, as well as our elevation of erotic or romantic love above the more relevant aspects of God’s genuine love. Here are 5 reality checks that are intended to not only enhance your own Valentine’s Day celebration, but cultivate a more meaningful love life overall!

1. Falling in love may happen before you know it, but being in love is a deliberate choice. 

Falling in love is, perhaps, one of the most amazing human experiences imaginable. It is awesome. It is mind-blowing. In spite of the brilliantly creative work of poets, songwriters, and artists, there truly is no language or expression powerful enough to describe the sheer blessing of falling in love. Problem is, falling in love is more of a chemical, biological, and emotional response to a very visceral and hormonal experience. It is not true love.

I know, that doesn’t sound very romantic. Bear with me, please.

God hard wired our brains and limbic system to respond with all the powerful romantic feelings associated with falling in love. It is a beautiful aspect of our essential humanity. Celebrated in scripture (I love the Song of Solomon) as part of the joy of loving and being loved, it is easy to associate such powerful feelings with genuine love.

On a personal note, I vividly remember the first time I saw the woman who is now my wife. The physiological excitement and arousal that flooded my brain was unmistakable. I fell and I fell hard! The second time I saw her, it was even more intense. I see various women all the time. Some of them are very pretty. Yet, nobody had the intense physiological effect on me that Kimberly did—and still does! It is because Kimberly had that effect on me that I then chose to get to know who this amazingly beautiful and intoxicatingly attractive woman was. Now, many years later, I still choose to love her every single day.

Falling in love is amazing! As wonderful and exhilarating as those physiological sensations are, however, they remain the byproduct of specific neurotransmitters in the body and brain responding to particular chemical baths of hormones produced by particular glands in the body. So much for romance, right?

This is where the choice comes in. Attraction is still largely a mystery of behavioral science. Yet, what happens is that that initial feeling of ‘falling in love’ triggers within our conscious mind a definitive reality. This person has my attention! For true love, both individuals must choose to truly—and unconditionally—love the other. That means loving with the heart, not just the biochemical bath of hormonal excitement. Guess what? The biological “love” that we experience in our limbic brain will ebb and flow. Choosing to love over and above those amazing physiological highs and lows will not only make the difference between feeling good and truly being in love, it will prolong and enhance the ability to genuinely feel in love with that person indefinitely!

Falling in love may just happen, but being in love is a daily choice that makes the “falling” part happen over and over again for a lifetime with the same person. The point is, we have to make the choice!

2. Love may involve sex but sex is not love at all. 

Let’s be honest. At some level there is probably an exception among many this weekend that physical intimacy will be part of the celebrations to be enjoyed. That’s fine. God did give us the gift of joyous sexuality so that we can enjoy the blessings it has for our lives. The problem is, if we listen to most of modern cultural communications, media messages, and pay attention to only the hormonal highs that come our way, we could get the false message that if you have one, you must have the other. It is a lie! Sex and love go together quite well, but they are not interchangeable.

The fact of the matter is, sex can be enjoyable with, or without, love. There are a lot of people who have sex and never care one bit about the partner, only their own pleasure. Likewise, there are a lot of people who “fall in love” as described in the first point, and quickly fall into bed before they choose to really love. All too frequently, people just assume that great sex must mean true love. This is why the casual association of sexual expression and love is so dangerous. We live in a culture that is increasingly sexualized and the pleasure of intimate contact does fool many couples into believing they are in love when, in reality, there is only sex. Regardless of one’s own personal religious, moral, or ethical beliefs regarding sexual intimacy outside of marriage, the fact is there are a lot of people enjoying such intimacy and, increasingly, the physical intimacy is happening long before genuine love—let alone marriage—can grow and mature. Yet, if we wish to achieve the greatest blessing such intimacy affords, simply ‘getting it on’ will never be enough. We have to truly work to be in love and that is the choice we can make, even after we have somehow managed to fall in love.

3. Love changes a life as it merges with the life of another, but if one feels controlled or the need to control, what you have is not love at all. 

In my 20 years of Christian ministry, I've dealt with a lot of controlling people. What makes controlling people dangerous is when they think they are acting out of love. I’ve seen many marriages destroyed, lives crushed, churches devastated, families enraged, businesses fail, romances sour, and unrelenting hatred erupt; all because someone could not separate their concept of love from their desire to control.

The fact is, being in a relationship—any kind of relationship—with another person requires that neither individual have control. Even if one desires to control another in the relationship, ultimately, there cannot be any ultimate control without destroying the humanity of the one controlled. Think about that for a moment. If there is controlling behavior in a relationship, it means one of two things:

A. The one being controlled loses their humanity
B. The one who believes they are in control is living a delusion

If one’s humanity is lost, genuine love cannot be extended and, in many cases, one may reach out to whatever means believed to be available to restore the feelings of lost humanity. Drugs, sex, obsessive behaviors, infidelity, depression, out-of-control spending, or outright criminality may be just some of the ways it comes out. When control is only a delusion, the controlling person will have to exert unbelievable amounts of energy, rage, power, fear, emotional terrorism, and manipulative behavior to both maintain the delusion and, reinforce that delusion in the life of the one controlled. In either case, this is not love. It is dominance, abuse, and terroristic behavior. There is no love.

Sometimes the controlling behavior can be “justified” as caring for an individual, protecting, or even trying to keep them from having to struggle with the challenges of everyday life. Yet, even when cleverly costumed in the appearance of compassionate behavior, control and love will not coexist in the same relationship.

4. Love joins two lives into one, but never at the expense of genuine individuality, independence, and health autonomy. 

Part of the illusion of falling in love and the delusion of fairy tale marriage is the idea that when the two become one flesh and are joined in marriage, the two cease to be individuals and wholly become one entity. While there is a degree of truth to this notion, nothing can be further from the truth. A marriage is a blending of two individuals into a new whole that gains strength because of the individual traits, personalities, and lives that are joined in the marriage.

All too often, an individual believes they are loved if their lover becomes completely one with every one of the partner’s likes and dislikes. Yet, what is really happening is a subtle (and destructive) slide into controlling behavior. (Look again at number 3 to see what that looks like.)

You and your marital spouse are one flesh—just not the same flesh! You both bring strengths to the partnership that the other person does not have. You both have interests that the other person does not share. You both have life experiences that the other does not know. It is the combining of all that diversity into one, new complete, and diverse whole that makes a marriage thrive.

Yes, take an interest in what your spouse enjoys. Yes, there is nothing wrong with wanting your spouse to like the same things you like. Quite often, it will happen and you both will be the happier for it. To be sure, plan time to do those things you enjoy together and be intentional about always sharing in those special things together. Yet, never feel you are somehow obligated to become just like your spouse. Likewise, there is no need to expect the same from the beautiful person you fell in love with, and are choosing to love!

5. Love is wholly altruistic, focused on the needs of the other, and totally unconditional so it not expect anything in return but when one’s care of the beloved sacrifices self-care, and gives to the point of exhaustion it’s not love at all. 

Love always gives of itself and asks nothing in return. Right? Well, yes, but …

True love is unconditional so when I give my love, it is not true if I desire love in return. Right? Well, yes, but …

The unique and powerful love that bonds people together in the sacredness of Holy Matrimony must be mutually altruistic and unconditional or it will become unbalanced and unhealthy. To put it simply, you cannot love if you have nothing left to give in love.

The choice to love your soulmate is, as I've already noted, a very deliberate choice that has the potential for some very beneficial and pleasurable returns. Your ability to truly love your spouse absolutely depends on your willingness to be wholly unconditional in giving that love.  Your capacity to love is also largely dependent on how well you are able to care for yourself and receive the natural benefits of that love.

Imagine a large barrel of cool, clean, refreshing water. It is there for you to enjoy, quench your thirst, and refresh your soul. Understandably, you may become quite appreciative of that water and its availably for you.  But wait. Unless you do something to replenish this source of water that you enjoy so much, you can only come back so many times before it has run dry and there is nothing left to give.

This is a large reason why, as lovers, soulmates, and marriage partners, we absolutely have to do two things as a part of loving the other as fully and completely as possible. First, we have to take care of ourselves. This means honoring our individuality and cherishing our unique interests just as was noted in number 4. Second, we must love our partner in return which is, essentially, the choice discussed in number 1.

By taking care of yourself, you ensure that your barrel of love remains full for your true love to receive the unconditional blessing it has to offer. And by choosing to love your partner, it helps ensure their reserve of love is replenished for you. What’s best is that when the love is mutually altruistic and mutually unconditional, the two of you will never run low on love to give.

So live, love and be filled with God’s blessing for your marriage! 

On this Valentine’s Day, go beyond simply gifting your beloved with a few nice gifts, a night out, or a special night of intimacy. Pledge yourself to choosing to love the one with whom you have fallen in love, enjoy the sex but nurture the bond that makes it even better, let your partner be free to be who God has so wonderfully and beautifully created your partner to be, cherish the individuality you both who each of you truly are, and let all love be wholly mutual

After all, true love is not a day that comes up every February 14th on a saint’s birthday. True love is life lived in love with the one soulmate God has blessed you to love!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

4 Practical Ways to "Don't Worry About It!"

“Don’t worry about it.”

Easier said than done, right?

Fact of the matter is, worry is a big part of the human condition. The fact that our ability to worry is somewhat hardwired into our consciousness does not mean that we have to become slaves to this instinctive behavior. Empowered by the gifts God has so lavishly given us, here are four simple and basic ways we can transcend the temptation to worry and actually start living life!

1.         Focus on what you know.

Much of the worry in our lives comes from what we do not know. We do not know the outcome of a given situation so we worry how it will end. We do not know what someone is going to say so we worry about how harsh or awful it will be. We do not know how to solve a problem so we worry about how miserably we may fail when we try. We do not know where someone is or what they are doing so we worry about the implications of their absence in the moment. You get the idea. Worry, in this instance, often erupts when our mind tries to imagine all the possible outcomes and explanations for what we simply do not know. Now, if we want to get into the messy world of statistical probability, perhaps there is a slim chance that the worst scenario imagined is true, in all likelihood, our imagination is far worse than reality. The question then becomes, why focus energy on reacting to an imagined reality when you truly have no definitive basis for knowing it is actually true.

The focus then is simply to concentrate your energy only on what you actually know. Jesus focused on this very point in the 6th chapter of Matthew. Beginning at verse 25 he simply says not to worry about your life, or body, or clothing. Using the animals of nature as an example he draws attention to the fact that they concern themselves only with what is present and now. “Even Solomon in all his splendor was not clothed as one of them,” he says reminding us that God’s love for humanity is sufficient for us to also bask in the blessings of God’s love.

2.         Focus on what is genuinely within your control.

Most worry is over things that are beyond our control. It is a simple, yet profound reality that many people never take into consideration. Again, in the 6th chapter of Matthew, Jesus asks a very direct question. “Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” Of course, the answer is no. (And, quite notably, medical science has demonstrated that worry can take time away from your life—both in the lost time and quality of life during the exercise of worry and the lost years at the end of life due to stress-related illness, disease, and premature death.)

The fact of the matter is, if you can’t control the situation, there is no good in expending precious energy worrying about it. Therefore, it is imperative that we place our limited energies on the tasks where we can make a difference, where we genuinely can exercise control, and where we are able to authentically remain productive. An important note of caution here: you cannot authentically control others even if you think you can. Remember, only yourself, your thoughts, actions, and reactions, are under your control. Begin there.

3.         Immerse yourself in God, gratitude, prayer, and positive reflection.

Worry is, quite frankly, all-consuming. In Philippians 4:6, Paul simply says not to worry about anything. Some translations say to be anxious for nothing. Appropriately, the idea of being full of worry or filled with anxiety point to the same reality—we are no longer in control of ourselves but fully consumed by a powerful and debilitating force. Yet Paul reminds us that this never need be the case!

Rather than give into the powers of worry, Paul says to begin by rejoicing in God. In the face of a situation or circumstance that triggers the all-consuming anxiety of worry and fret in our lives, we have a choice. We can give in to the dominating power of worry and lose ourselves in the debilitating destruction it brings, or we can focus our efforts in prayerful reflection. Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4:4-9 are powerful, and also very basic. He says to rejoice, give thanks, mediate in prayer, and focus on the positive. Honestly, when worry tries to take over my spirit, I find it wonderfully refreshing and strengthening to get out my Bible and read that passage from Philippians—and put it into immediate practice.

4.         Remain aware.

Many years ago a man came to me who was very angry over a situation at the church. It was clear from his tone and angry outburst that he was worried over the situation. It had consumed him and the worry was in total control of his emotions at the moment. In fact, he was so worried about the situation that he interpreted my lack of emotional anxiety to mean that I either didn’t care or didn’t understand the gravity of the problem. It took some calming and careful conversation to demonstrate to him that I was truly fully aware of the situation and was taking it very seriously. I simply was not anxious or worried about it.

Difficult decisions and challenging circumstances require acute awareness and focused, intentional thought. It is no surprise that worry strips us of these vital faculties. Yet, for many the lack of noticeable emotional distress is interpreted as ignorance to the severity of the situation. Through a disciplined application of the first three points, focusing on what you do know, what you can control, and calling on the power of God through prayerful reflection and meditation, one’s ability to truly remain focused and aware without the distraction of worry is truly possible.

Worry is a part of life. Situations will arise when you will feel it coming on. Often, we are drowning in worry before we truly realize it has taken hold of our spirit. Yet we never need to stay in the deadly waters of dread or live in the confounds of calamity—even though worry will tempt us to do just that.

Instead of worry, consider the wisdom of Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul and choose life over worry.

Addendum to my original blog post:

As requested by a reader, here are the two primary Bible verses referenced in this blog post. Yet, don’t take my word for it. Please, mark these in your Bible and refer to them every time you feel that tinge of worry coming on!

Be Blessed!


Jesus on Worry: Matthew 6:25-34 (NRSV)
25  "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
26  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
28  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,
29  yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
30  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?
31  Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'
32  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
33  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34  "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.

Paul on Worry: Philippians 4:4-9 (NRSV)
4  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
5  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
6  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
9  Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

5 Vital Choices for Life

Life is hectic at times. Stuff happens. Things do not go as planned. Other people’s agendas will inevitably throw you off track. Angry and difficult people will curse you, Oversights you have made will leave you with egg on the face. That’s life. For years I've said that life is what happens when you've made other plans.

When life throws you a curve-ball, you may not be able to control what’s coming at you, but you can control how you respond. It is that critical choice that will make all the difference. Here are five genuine choices that you can make every day that will make your life better in spite of what surprises come your way.

1. Have to wait? Why not meditate?

It happens all the time. You are in a hurry and the line at the bank is taking forever. Your quick run to the grocery store stops cold because the person in the check-out line didn't realize the “10 Items or Less” applied to them. You want to have an important conversation with someone and they keep putting you off for whatever reason. That’s life. Sometimes we have to wait. Yet, how often do we react to these unwanted pauses in our busy schedule with irritation, disgust, or perhaps outright anger. Rather than get angry or frustrated, while you wait chose to meditate. Say a prayer. Focus your thoughts on positive outcomes. Pray a blessing over the person or situation that is contributing to your wait time. Breathe and accept the moment as an opportunity to center yourself and be blessed.

2. It’s a nuisance, not the end of the world. 

Human beings are biologically hard-wired to have a very strong “fight/flight” reflex. When faced with life-threatening danger, the adrenalin dump into the system is designed to protect and prepare our bodies to do whatever it take to ensure survival. This is really effective if we are faced with a very real and imminent danger and immediate threat to our life. Yet, honestly, how many times in your lifetime have you been truly in danger of imminent death? Perhaps a few, but thankfully that is not an everyday reality for the vast majority of humanity. In spite of that fact, many people get so spun up over little things that the body is literally being taught to go into fight/flight mode because the soda machine malfunctioned and kept the money or because we feel the need to get to the red light faster than everyone else on the road at that moment. If things do not go the way you desire, rather than treat it as a potential end to life, shake it off and be honest. It is a nuisance, but not life-threatening. Then act accordingly.

3. Don’t know—don’t go! 

The human mind is an incredible creation with an unrelenting capacity to imagine just about anything. As much as this is one of our greatest strengths, it can also be one of our biggest downfalls; particularly when we don’t know something. When we do not know something (example: “I do not know where my spouse is right now”) the mind is quick to imagine any range of possibilities. Unfortunately, those possibilities are often driven by fears, insecurities, or negative past experiences. Before we know it, rather than simply acknowledging something that we don’t know, we can become emotionally spun out over an imagined reality that is both irrationally negative and probably as far from the truth as possible. It’s a simple rule of life. If you do not know something, don’t go there as if you did. Instead, in life we need to focus on what we know.

4. Be Aware but don’t let worry consume your care.

Worry is perhaps one of the biggest killers in the world. Its negative affect on physiological health, mental health, and relational stability is profound. Worst of all, much of the stuff we worry about is beyond our control anyway. If you can’t control or change the situation, why invest precious emotional, physical, and mental energy into worrying about it. On the other hand, if you can change something, worry is not going to empower you to change a thing. Instead, worry will consume the precious energy you need to address the situation. When faced with a situation over which we are prone to worry, be aware. Look objectively at the situation and prayerfully discern what the options may be, what can and cannot be controlled, and how you are going to be able to positively address the situation. Then, without the burden of worry or fear, act on your awareness rather than give into worry.

5. Always radiate the Attitude of Gratitude. 

In all things, be thankful, express appreciation, and share your gratitude at every opportunity. Take time to thank the people who give you service. Acknowledge the efforts of others in all things. Tune your awareness to recognize the little things people do—especially if they are not done explicitly for you. Life is too short to be consumed by ingratitude and the negativity that accompanies it. Even the simple blessing of smiling and nodding one’s head in a gesture of appreciative acknowledgment of another’s genuine humanity goes a long way.

So. It’s up to you and me. What are we going to choose?

Be blessed and in so doing, be a blessing! May God’s grace and peace go with you. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 19, 2015

5 Lessons from the Legacy of Dr. King and Why they Matter Today

Today the nation pauses to remember the life and teachings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. With his prophetic ministry on my mind, I want to share with you five reasons why I believe Dr. King still matters and what we can do about it. 

1. Dr. King dared to believe humanity could be better than we are. He understood our shared humanity as God created us. His ministry challenged an unwilling nation to rise to a new reality—one that embraced our greater side and affirmed the sacred nature of what it means to be created in God’s image. Today there many people who hold tightly to dehumanizing visions and actions toward other people. Race, class, language, education, the way we dress, the neighborhood in which we live, the job we choose, the car we drive, the church we attend, and the school we attend are often used as markers that others use to determine our value. We have a long way to go, but Dr. King’s legacy remains a vital and inspired challenge to rise above who we are to be who God has created us to be. 

2. Positive change is impossible if we are not willing to get out and work for it. In today’s world it is increasingly hard to remember—let alone personally relate—to the level of racial segregation and discrimination that spurred the epic Civil Rights Movement. Yet, for many who casually believed in equal rights, the fear was that rocking the boat, making a stand, and marching for equality was too dangerous, too threatening to the status quo, and too volatile. It would have been better to just accept things as they were and hope time would change things on its own. Dr. King believed differently. While holding fast to the principles of Non-Violence, Dr. King confronted the evil of his day in God’s love and with a tenacious spirit of active determination. Today, we have a long way to go to realize the power of Dr. King’s Dream. Discrimination and prejudice remain prominent driving forces in our culture. For people who believe in the Dream, this is no time to sit back and hope things will change soon. We have to be the change! 

3. No matter how desperate the circumstances, violence is an evil that must not be embraced. There were those who vehemently criticized Dr. King for not doing enough to accelerate the drive for Civil Rights—many who turned to violent and militant means of pushing the change they so urgently desired. Yet King was resolute! Violence begets violence and King knew this. Tragically, it was cowardly violence that claimed his life in Memphis, but as Dr. King refused to lift his hand in violence when he lived, his legacy continues this day without violence. In a world where weapons and military might frequently dominate national politics, we must remember that there is a higher calling in Non-Violence—one we must all faithfully embrace. 

4. Prejudice is an expression of both fear and laziness. People tend to fear that which they do not understand. It is, to a great extent, part of human nature. This naturally leads to prejudice and that ultimately leads to hate. The challenge that Dr. King reminds us to consider is that hate is essentially the lazy approach. As long as I can hate another defined group of people or blame my problems on their existence, I neither have to take responsibility for my own life, nor invest the energy necessary to get to know them for who they truly are. Dr. King challenges us to get out of or lazy world-views and invest both the personal accountability for the world we have helped create, as well as truly getting to know the stranger in our midst. We are, after all, all human. It is time we started acting like it. 

5. God is in the streets as much as, if not more than, the comfortable church sanctuaries where we worship. Dr. King was, first and foremost, a man of God, Christian, Pastor, and Spiritual Leader. Raised in the sacred teachings of the church, Dr. King’s faith was the source of his wisdom, energy, and vision. As such, he appreciated and faithfully honored the importance of the church, the sanctity of the Sunday worship, and the singularly vital significance of corporate Christian worship in the context of being the church. But for Dr. King, worship was empty without out also embracing the reality of the streets. His faith was expressed in Sunday Worship as well as Monday marches in the name of Jesus Christ. For faith to be truly vital and meaningful, the same holds true for us today. Spirituality lived in social activism, yet without a foundation in a worshiping faith community is fragmented and unanchored. Worship in church without activities in the streets is shallow and empty. We need both and it is a healthy balance of the two that will transform the world for God. 

Dr. King’s Dream is alive today and still transforming the world. Our call is not simply to declare a holiday and remember the man that once was, but live the dream that still is. Our challenge is not to remember civil rights for a weekend and move on with life, but to make every day a day to honor the legacy left to us by Dr. King. Ours is a call to justice, peace, and mercy because that is what Dr. King stood for … and far more importantly, that’s what God stands for! 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Addressing the Real Problem!

Today we stand on a difficult precipice in the United States.

With the dawn of 2015 now a half-a-month behind us, much of the hope, promise, and enthusiasm that naturally comes with a change-of-calendar is fading away in the melee of media-driven hype, political banter, and irrational fear.  In many cases, it is Christian Faith that is being used as a highly influential tool of persuasion—for the good and the ill—when it comes to getting people to take “our” side on the issue of the day.

What’s a Christian to do?

In Mark 3:25 Jesus speaks the often quoted words, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Interestingly, he was speaking in response to allegations that he, himself, was evil and thus using evil to cast out evil in the guise of good.

Without comparing Jesus Christ to any human leader or governmental entity, it is noteworthy to at least draw a comparison to some of the rhetoric used in Washington DC. Generally, the other side is depicted in harsh, cruel, degrading, and even outright evil connotations.

President Obama is a deluded socialist (a.k.a. evil enemy of democracy).

John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are tyrannical fascists (a.k.a. evil enemies of democracy).

Interestingly, if we take the implications of Jesus Christ in Mark 3:25 seriously, it is possibly also true that there is more at risk than political correctness.

If President Obama proves that he is right and the Republicans are wrong, America will lose.

If Mitch McConnel and John Boehner prove that they are right and that President Obama is wrong, America will lose.

Social media makes it even worse.

It does not take long on Facebook, Twitter, or similarly popular social media sites to highlight extremist rhetoric “proving” how right and wrong the clearly defined sides are. The implications are powerful! One had better be on your side or they are just as evil as those frighteningly destructive forces that are out to destroy our way of life. If we disagree, you are not merely wrong, you are evil and thus part of the problem.

In the meantime:

The economy lumbers along. Some get very rich. Some fall deeper into poverty. Some live paycheck to paycheck.

People cultured in violence use deadly force to destroy others in fear, rage, or a lust for power. Some may wear a hoodie and others may wear a badge—human lives on both sides of the law suffer. Blood continues to flow.

Terrorists continue to cling to fear-driven models of violence intended to bring some form of self-serving redemption and retributive violence continues to fuel the fires of hate.

Some cry for peace through force, others peace through surrender. Some decry the tyranny of power while others decry the tyranny of weakness. Violence continues to escalate.

And what will ultimately change?

Hopefully, we will!

The time for that change is now!

The government is not the problem

The media is not the problem

Immigrants are not the problem

Terrorists are not the problem


It is far too easy to blame the problem on factors, policies, presidents and politicians over which you and I truly have no control.

“They” are not the problem.

I am the problem. You are the problem. Together We are the problem.

As long as we continue to show love of God and Country by spouting off hatred and disparagement toward other Americans simply because we see the national issues differently, we are the problem. As long as we are hell-bent on undermining our national leadership, we are the problem. As long as we are determined to “take back our country” from Americans who have just as much right to live here just because they belong to another political party, we are the problem. As long as we are determined to force partisan control over seeking the common good, we are the problem. As long as we treat legitimate differences of opinion as battlegrounds in a war of dominance and control, we are the problem. As long as we are determined to demean the intelligence, degrade the humanity, and undercut the validity of others over political issues, we are the problem.

Galatians 6:7 is very clear that we will reap that which we sow. For many years now, the American people have been sowing intolerance, hatred, insults, mistrust, and outright hatred toward people and politics that differ from our own. We are the problem and we have been for a very long time.

In the name of God, Stop being the problem.

Instead of shouting the other side down, try listening and learning.
Instead of professing how ignorant they are, try understanding why they believe as they do.
Instead of taking up verbal (or worse yet, physical) arms to defend what you know is right and destroy those ideas you know are wrong, try affirming the humanity of others.
Instead of calling on the Name of God to justify your hatred of everything that you are so convinced God wants you to hate, remember that God’s ways are much bigger than your ways and God’s love is much broader than you may realize.
Instead of self-rigorously flaunting that you didn’t vote for the leader that you hate, try working to empower our elected leaders for success for the benefit of the nation!
Instead of decrying the failures of somebody else's religious perspective, focus on humbly perfecting the relevance of your own religious authenticity. 

Truly, we stand on a precipice of failure as a nation.

If we fail, it will not be the Obama Administration that brings over the brink, no matter how much you may wish to believe otherwise.

If we fail, it will not be the Republicans that bring us over the brink, no matter how much you may wish to believe otherwise.

If we fail, it will not be ISIS, Al-Qaida, or some other radical religious faction bent on hate and violence that brings us over the brink, no matter how much you may wish to believe otherwise.  

If we fail, it will be because good, honest, patriotic Christian Americans chose hate, fear, division, insults, dehumanization, and control over love, understanding, and grace.

The time is now!

How willing are you to be a part of the change?

As for me, I am choosing the path God’s love. I ask you to please join me.