Anger: The gateway drug

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Another tragedy savaged the American conscience when reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward of WDBJ-TV were fatally shot during a live interview on Wednesday, August 26, in Moneta, Virginia. Authorities identified the suspect as former journalist (and ne’er-do-well) Vester Lee Flanagan II. Like so many of these cases, Flanagan died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Who knows what went through his mind before he put that gun to his head and stepped into the presence of a just God? In any case, it doesn’t take a genius to reach the conclusion that something has gone horribly wrong in America when a killer like Flanagan records his murders and posts it on social media for the world to witness the outcome of a pathological mind determined to get even with the world for his delusional woes.

Since the killing of Parker and Ward, the news media has uncovered enough dirt on Flanagan to paint an ugly picture of a man filled with rage at others over his career failures as a journalist. Apparently he was a man devoid of any capacity to examine himself. In other words, he was one of those individuals we have all encountered—the paranoid guy or gal who blames other people for their lot in life. This is not to say that other people never do bad things that affect our lives. But when a person bounces from one negative situation to another with eerie similarities between them, chances are the problem is not other people. Constantly blaming others is not a God-approved way of life for Christians. In Psalms 139:23-24 we see that the psalmist knew he needed God to examine him:

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

One emotion (if you can call it that . . . it’s more like a malevolent presence) that blocks our ability to see ourselves accurately is anger. It also inhibits God’s ability to work in our life. Mr. Flanagan could be the poster child for anger and bitterness. He convinced himself that the world was out to get him because he was black and gay. He kept a long record of wrongs. By embracing anger and nurturing it, he opened wide the door for Satan to enter his heart and direct his actions. Anger is like heroin or crack cocaine, it feels soooo good to indulge it. Anger puffs up our feeling of moral superiority and feeds the monster of victimhood lurking in our soul. Unfortunately many people in America do not know that anger is a gateway to sin. Yep, check out Ephesians 4:26-27 (ERV):

“When you are angry, don’t let that anger make you sin, and don’t stay angry all day. Don’t give the devil a way to defeat you.”

Get the picture? Anger is a dangerous substance. Indulge it often or too long, and Satan will use it against you. That said, allow me to address a political issue surrounding this tragedy—gun control. Every time these types of tragedies occur, those who embrace the “progressive” ideology for our society zero in on guns so intently it makes me wonder if they associate the gun as the actual source of the evil that killed Parker and Ward. Granted, easy access to guns makes it easier for an evil person to destroy the lives of others, but the gun itself is not innately evil. The source of the evil (baring evidence of mental illness) is the human heart. As Christians, we have an obligation to urge the world to avoid the trap of embracing solutions that do not address the root problem. Sure, if a new law or administrative process can keep firearms out of the hands of unstable people while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens, we have an obligation to embrace it out of love for our neighbors. But more important than that, we can show the world how we examine our own lives and rely on God’s intervention to help us change dangerous attitudes in our heart. It’s called personal responsibility, and personal responsibility is the best gun control. Maybe it’s time for more Christian Americans to move beyond soaking up the good vibe of God’s love on Sunday morning to the difficult, and courageous, work of self-examination and change.

Subway’s Jared Fogle Bites the Big One

Jared Fogle at Courthouse

Jared Fogle at Courthouse

Many people were surprised by the news that Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle is scheduled to plead guilty in court on charges that he paid kids for sex and received child pornography. (Apparently he didn’t have access to Hillary Clinton’s tech experts to wipe his hard drive.) Jared seemed like such a nice young man, an inspiring guy who many Americans could relate to because of his struggle with weight. At least he’s coming clean about his bad decisions and owning the harm he’s done to others (and that’s huge in a world where people usually blame others when their bad behavior is uncovered). Oh how I long to see more Christian leaders who get caught in sin or bad behavior take full responsibility in public (without wavering over the long term) and caution their followers that there is no one else to blame. This would go a long way toward mitigating their damaged testimony and growing the faith of congregants who need confirmation that God is really at work in the lives of our leaders and the Christian life isn’t a sham. When we blame others for our mistakes, which incites division, well, that’s exactly how the world operates. But I digress.

What surprises me most is that the public still reacts with incredulity when these stories break about well-thought-of celebrities. For some twisted reason we continue to assume that those in the public eye are the same person in private. Yet by now we should know that human beings have a remarkable, and disturbing, capacity to live double lives. People who are completely the same in private as in public are rare creatures, if they exist at all.

History is filled with well-known people who appeared one way in public but lived completely different lives in private. Think John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Several places in the Bible warn God’s people that God is not pleased when we live double lives, which is what the Bible calls having a divided mind. The recent story of Josh Duggar and his use of the Ashley Madison adultery website is a glittering example of what a divided mind looks like. (See: http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2015/08/20/josh-duggar-admits-to-being-unfaithful-having-porn-addiction/ ) One of the harshest Scriptures on this topic is found in Matthew 23:27-28 where Jesus says:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

These verses were not directed solely at the Pharisees back in the day. They are also directed at us today. If that made you uncomfortable, 1 Corinthians 10:21 is even more discombobulating:

“You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”

Here’s the thing: We Christians are supposed to be the same in private as we are in public, the same with our coworkers as we are with our boss, the same with our spouse as we are with our neighbors, the same with fellow students as we are with our teachers. You get the idea—it’s pretty much impossible. At least it’s impossible unless we first admit we are living a double life and it does not please God. Then we need to ask God for help to be a genuine person in public and private. The whole process requires a great deal of honest soul-searching. If we close the gap between our public and private persona, we have a better testimony but we also feel more comfortable in our own skin. I don’t know if any human can completely close the gap between public and private life this side of heaven. But if the Christian life is real, the gap will continue to shrink throughout our life.

A Dangerous Prayer: Lord, am I THAT guy?

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Here is an excellent quote from Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy by Leslie Vernick: “Our pride makes us unwilling to be taught, unwilling to be warned, and unwilling to be wrong, and because of our self-deception, we don’t realize we’re so unwilling and prideful. We just think we’re seeing things as they really are. But the Bible says, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death’ (Proverbs 14:12). When we are closed to the influence of wise people in our lives, we’re vulnerable to making poor choices.”

Listening is a difficult skill for all of us, especially when we are the topic. Peter even refused to listen to Jesus (God himself) when told that he would deny Jesus three times. (Of course it is possible Peter had adult ADHD, in which case we can give him a bit of a pass.) When we learn to openly listen to input about ourselves, it is harder to fall victim to self-deception. Also, we learn that wisdom doesn’t only come from wise grey-beards with impressive pedigrees; it can even come from people further down the ladder than us. That’s because God is not opposed to sharing his insights through the lowly. Unfortunately, pride can render even the most mature Christian incapable of listening. When life throws them an “unexpected” curve, they are caught off guard, bewildered, angry and hurt. They naturally lash out at others. But if we have a shred of teachable attitude left within us, the first thing to examine is our own heart, though we can’t accurately undertake such an effort alone. We need God’s help AND the help of other people.

One of the most important, and dangerous, prayers every Christian can pray is: Lord, is there anything in me you want to change, and if so will you please help me change? Or, in more hip vernacular: Lord, am I THAT guy or gal? This is a dangerous prayer because in my experience God ALWAYS answers this prayer (if offered sincerely), and the process of change that follows can be painful and long, sometimes taking years to unfold. In addition, the process can push nearly everything else in our life to the sidelines. The first thing God often shows us (especially us men) is pride that has crept into our life, even when we thought we were the epitome of humility. Ironically, some of the most prideful people are also insecure. But God can help us through both issues, and it sure feels good when he is finished crushing our pride. If we never pray this prayer, we will continue to screw up in new and exciting ways year after weary year. More importantly, we will continue to be obnoxious and damage our relationships.

Throughout history, stubbornness, aka pride, has wreaked havoc on God’s people. No wonder God resists the proud (and don’t I know it!), but he loves a malleable heart. In my humble opinion (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), pride is Satan’s most effective tool against God’s people, and he uses it with perverse relish. Pride, and its twisted cousin “moral superiority,” are the root of much mischief, hurts and mean-spirited behavior between Christians. Perhaps that’s why fewer and fewer people are attracted to Christianity in America.

To combat pride, every Christian would be wise to memorize ten words found in Romans 12:3: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought. . .” That said, it is important to understand that some psychiatric conditions have certain symptoms that resemble those of a person struggling with pride. That’s why it is important to get checked out by a trained mental health professional. If you are interested in learning more about the dangers posed by pride, below are links to two excellent articles about pride and the raw conflict and deception it can cause. They are written for church leaders, but apply to all believers.

http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/259476-pride-greatest-problem.html
http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/259479-4-magic-words-next-argument.html

Better a live dog than a dead lion: And other lessons from Cecil

Scar from The Lion King

Scar from The Lion King

Everything I know about lions I learned from Disney’s The Lion King. That’s why I was surprised by the uber-high level of public outrage over the recent killing of Cecil the lion by an American dentist using a bow and arrow while on safari. Apparently Cecil was a celebrity in Africa. You see, I grew up in an era when fathers and sons hunted as a hobby and to teach boys how to properly handle firearms. Granted, our pursuit of game was limited to pheasants, quail, ducks and the occasional black tail buck, and we ate what we harvested from nature. An African lion would have been an unusual sight in the valleys and National Forests of Northern California. As the years passed, my lethality as a hunter has declined dramatically. I’ve become more a danger to myself than any game in the field. If I had faced off with Cecil in the African bush, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But I digress.

Let me say up front that even though I still “hunt” (or more accurately I “hike while armed”), I do not approve of hunting African lions unless it is to protect human life or livestock, or to reduce overpopulation. I know hunters who like to use a bow and arrow because it is more challenging and gives the animal a better chance (so they claim). I’m not a fan of bow hunting because I’ve also known hunters who wounded game with an arrow and were unable to track the animal and recover the meat. Bow hunting requires an extremely high level of skill to be humane. A skilled rifle marksman using the proper firearm is more humane than a bow and arrow. For that reason alone I look down my nose at the dentist who shot Cecil with an arrow. Also, one does not typically hunt African lion to eat the meat. It’s mostly a trophy thing.

The Cecil incident raises the question: Should all hunting be banned? Of the millions of people who raised heck over Cecil’s death and demanded the head of the dentist on a plate, I’ve no doubt many of them enjoy a good steak, crispy bacon, or a salmon fillet cooked on a cedar plank (an environmentalist’s worst nightmare). To the ears of responsible hunters, such protesters smack of hypocrisy. Granted, hunters in developed countries do not NEED to hunt for survival. Anyone can go to the grocery store and buy meat neatly wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic wrap. Consumers no longer have to get their hands bloody in processing the meat they consume. They certainly do not have to kill their meat on the slaughterhouse floor. Perhaps we have become too removed from the food chain.

To be completely honest, most of the time I’m not an uber-enthusiastic hunter. But an interesting thing happens every time I step into the wild in search of game: a deep hunter’s instinct stirs in my spirit. When I’m not in the field, modern life completely suppresses that instinct. I believe that instinct is present in EVERY person, and even the most zealous PETA acolyte would, given the right set of circumstances, feel that instinct. Deny it if you will, there is a hunter in the human soul. It’s part of our wiring for survival. Perhaps it was the immediate result of humanity’s fall in the Garden, or maybe it evolved after the fall. Either way, it’s very real. Unfortunately some hunters, such as the dentist who killed Cecil, misuse that instinct.

So what does the Bible say about humanity’s relationship to the animal kingdom and God’s creation in this post-fall world? Here are two verses that help guide us:

Proverbs 12:10: “Good people take good care of their animals, but the wicked know only how to be cruel.”

Romans 1:25: “They traded the truth of God for a lie. They bowed down and worshiped the things God made instead of worshiping the God who made those things. He is the one who should be praised forever. Amen.”

I don’t know if the dentist who killed Cecil is usually a good person or more evil than the rest of us, but the reaction of the millions who lashed out in anger against him, many even threatening his life, makes me believe that a large segment of society has fallen into nature idolatry. Perhaps even some Christians have crossed that line, as well. It’s like saying The Starry Night is a masterpiece of painting but Van Gogh is irrelevant, or worse, Van Gogh never existed. They call that cognitive dissonance, or as I prefer to call it: malevolent lunacy.

Our God-given role as stewards is to protect nature, enjoy it, conserve it, have a spiritual experience in it, even harvest appropriate portions of it responsibly, but absolutely not make it our god. When we worship nature instead of God, our relationships with each other get screwed up because our heart for each other grows cold. We may find ourselves going to extreme measures to live in harmony with nature, but only God can perfect nature. God gave humanity much control to affect nature, but not absolute control. In other words, despite our efforts to heal nature and live in harmony with it, we will still encounter sickness, death, exploitation, abuse and nature gone awry because we are not nature’s owner. The ultimate solution to nature’s problems is found in healing the human heart of sin. When Christ’s work in the human heart is finished, nature will be restored by God.

Trump trumps the pack of GOP candidates: Why?

Trump

Why is Donald Trump incredibly popular as a presidential candidate, other than his status as a TV celebrity? One answer: He doesn’t use politicianspeak or CEO-speak (which is ironic because he is a CEO). According to netlingo.com, CEO-speaks is defined as: “. . . the language of corporate leadership. ‘CEO-speak’ explores the metaphors and persuasive strategies used by leaders of the corporate world, for example ‘The current downturn reached sufficient strength this quarter that we could not power up against it,’ and ‘We are an issues-focused firm with high-end engagements across the board and we want to be the market leader in the industries we serve.’” Huh?

When a CEO says “The current downturn reached sufficient strength this quarter that we could not power up against it,” he or she is really saying “The economy got worse and we lost money this quarter because we did not increase sales sufficiently and cut enough costs.”

Career politicians use a similar language to make themselves sound more sophisticated and often to deceive. It’s called politicianspeak or politicianese. Urban dictionary describes it this way: “The language used by politicians for the express purpose of misleading and deceiving the voters while they figure out their next lie. It is a distinct dialect of Newspeak that has become embedded into nearly every real world language to scramble the minds of the electorate, to get them spouting doubleplusgood duckspeak; and most of all, to keep them from thinking for themselves. It is a combination of ‘politician’ and ‘speak’ put together in true Orwellian 1984 fashion.”

Regular folks know there is a high likelihood of being flimflammed when a politician uses politicianese to communicate with we the people about the very real problems we face in the trenches of life. So far, Donald Trump, whatever you think of him as a businessman or a person, has spoken directly to the people in clear simple language that everyone can understand. While I do not think Donald Trump is a particularly religious person, he has hit on a spiritual principle which I will describe below.

It might be that Trump is exceptionally shrewd and his “plain language” is itself a ruse. In other words, he may be endearing himself to the electorate via plebian vernacular to assume office and support policies in alignment with his personal aspirations (if you’ll pardon my use of politicianese). In other words, he could be lying for selfish reasons. But let’s assume Trump is sincere. If so, his use of language is more in alignment with the Biblical principle of integrity found in Matthew 5:37 and James 5:12 where Christians are told to let our yes be yes and no be no. In other words, God wants us to have tremendous personal integrity so that we do not need to say any more than yes or no in order for people to trust us. The context in these two Scriptures refers to the ancient practice whereby people made creative or elaborate oaths in order to get other people to believe what they were saying, such as in the context of a business transaction. It’s like when we were children and we said “Cross my heart and hope to die.” God takes our promises seriously. As for politicians, if they have integrity (and that’s a big “IF”), there is no need to dress up their speech with elaborate politicianese.

The unexpected rise of Trump in the polls over his run for president demonstrates how desperate people are for a politician who speaks in plain language regarding issues that are very real and personal to regular folks, even if Trump sounds braggadocios and uncouth at times. People are so desperate for plain speech that they are even willing to overlook some of the foibles coming from Trump’s mouth, and they admire the fact that Trump does not apologize when he gets blowback for his tone and the direct things he says. Either that or voters are more obtuse than I thought. Trump’s rise in the polls is an indictment of politicians in general. I just hope our lust for plain language, combined with our infatuation with celebrity, does not blind us and cause us to elect someone who will do more harm to Americans.

Immigration Expresses Christ’s Love?

Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez /Courtesy of Voice of America

Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez /Courtesy of Voice of America

In the wake of the recent terrorist attack in Tennessee (yes, I intentionally called it a terrorist attack) allegedly committed by Kuwaiti-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez that killed five members of our Armed Forces, Franklin Graham fell into disfavor with some Christian leaders when he called for an end to Muslim immigration to the U.S. Graham’s critics believe that closing immigration to the Muslim world due to the actions of a small number of radicals does not express Christian love. Graham’s critics have a distorted understanding of our obligations as Christians as well as our effectiveness. Allow me to elaborate.

On one hand, God instructs us in the Bible to welcome the foreigner in our land. But on the other hand, God warned the nation of Israel against intermixing with the nations and people groups they were at war with. (In other words, God was concerned for the safety and spiritual wellbeing of his people because he knew that too much intermixing with the people from enemy nations would lead many of his people to change allegiance to other gods.) Granted, the context is different in each of these two instructions found in the Bible, but some American Christians have embraced the former Biblical imperative to welcome the foreigner while ignoring the latter imperative that warns God’s people of the danger of too much intermixing that can result in a nation losing their identity to the customs and religions of hostile nations. This one-sided approach to Biblical instruction leads some Christians to the misdirected, albeit compassionate, belief that America should always permit copious immigration because it presents an opportunity to express Christ’s love to unbelievers. Such thinking, given the current reality that the U.S. is at war with radical Islamists, means that some of our fellow citizens will inevitably die at the hands of radical Islamists who immigrate to the U.S. We know that some Muslims are radicalized via the internet after they get here, though we don’t know how many.

Some American Christians, attempting to demonstrate Christ’s love to the world, feel duty-bound to accept the low risk (for now) associated with Muslim immigration. Apparently those same American Christians are prepared to become martyrs if necessary. Such an attitude sounds spiritually enlightened and hip in a new age-pacifist sort of way. But is it Biblical when we live in a nation at war, indeed when our very soil has become a battleground? Do we have a right to expect even a small number of fellow citizens, who might not know the Lord, to be willing to die at the hands of radical Islamist immigrants so that we can express the love of Christ via a generous immigration policy? There’s another question we need to ask as Christians and good citizens: Are Muslim immigrants assimilating into American culture? Anecdotally I see more and more immigrants who show no apparent desire to assimilate into American culture. I also wonder how many immigrants are converting to Christianity. Over the past few years I’ve noticed quite a few Caucasian American women wearing the hijab. We, the church, need to ask who is converting who?

As for the argument that we need high immigration numbers as a mechanism for Christians to express the love of Christ, I refer you to John 13:34-35 where we receive a new command from God: “. . . By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” This Scripture is directed at Christians. If we are honest with ourselves, we do a lackluster job of loving each other in the church. Jesus didn’t say the world would come to him because of good preaching, or excellent missionary programs, or faith-based social services, or creative outreach events; although all these things help bring people to faith in Christ. Jesus was pointing out the powerful witness to unbelievers that occurs when Christians love each other with the miraculous love of Christ. When done right, it’s something unbelievers would want for themselves. Since we have not done so well at loving each other in the church the way Christ loved his disciples, perhaps we should not delude ourselves that we can reach significant numbers of Muslim immigrants right now. It seems like we are just hoping that we can entice immigrants into the kingdom of God by first enticing them with our western freedom, democracy, economic opportunities and materialism. Again, I’m not sure how we can demonstrate the love of Christ through immigration policy when we do a lackluster job of loving each other in the American church.

Maybe the better approach is to re-focus on sending missionaries overseas. I’ve said it before, but the time has likely come in America when we need to slow immigration to a trickle for a while in order to give our current immigrants time and incentive to assimilate, and to allow law enforcement to cull the bad apples that present a danger to our fellow citizens. But such a policy has a fatal flaw in our current political milieu: It’s called common sense and it doesn’t help anybody make money or secure power. Fortunately God doesn’t need money or power. I pray that God’s will for our nation prevails.

Bloody Hands: Leaders selling their souls over immigration

A border wall a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border near Agua Prieta, Mexico, and Douglas, Ariz.  (Cronkite News Service Photo / Courtney Sargent)

A border wall a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border near Agua Prieta, Mexico, and Douglas, Ariz. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Courtney Sargent)

If Bill Cosby were an illegal immigrant, could he move to a sanctuary city and escape the legal troubles surrounding his inappropriate/criminal sexual dalliances back in the day? Last week, as the Cosby story heated up, news about Kate Steinle’s murder in San Francisco allegedly at the hands of Illegal immigrant Francisco Sanchez (who happened to be enjoying safe refuge in the sanctuary city of San Franciso) went viral. Her tragic murder made me angry. You see, last year two sheriff deputies were killed in and near my hometown of Sacramento by illegal immigrant Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamonte. Mr.Monroy-Bracamonte had been deported twice before killing the deputies.

According to United States Sentencing Commission data for 2014, Illegal immigrants accounted for 36.7% of federal sentences. Most of us commoners agree that our immigration system is dysfunctional and our leaders in Washington do not have the juice to fix it. Republican politicians exploit illegal immigrants for the cheap labor craved by business while democrat politicians exploit illegal immigrants for their votes, or the votes of their legal family members. In other words, when one of us commoners gets murdered or maimed by an illegal immigrant criminal, Washington considers it acceptable collateral damage. What’s it going to take to fix? Will the father of a child killed by an illegal immigrant someday walk into Congress and shoot the place up? If such a horrible thing were to happen I’ve no doubt our border would be secure overnight.

Here’s the thing: The Bible tells us to welcome foreigners in our land. Read Exodus 22:21-24, Leviticus 19:33-34, and Deuteronomy 10:18-19. These verses convey a tone of empathy that we are to have toward immigrants in our land; I accept that and try to live it. Unfortunately these verses do not provide guidance in the nuance of complicated ancillary issues surrounding illegal immigration, such as: what to do about endless legions of poor illegal immigrants fleeing horrible conditions in their country; the cost of housing, food, medicine, social services and education for illegal immigrants; the crimes committed by a segment of illegal immigrants while here; whether or not illegal immigrants perform jobs that natural citizens avoid; and the cost to the consumer if illegal immigration were shut off.

The primary focus of the Bible’s position on immigration instructs us to have a tender heart toward immigrants and to take care of them if they are in need while here. We can do that. But the Bible does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. The Bible also does not say that we must throw open the gate and accept whatever consequences, the good and bad. Just because we want our leaders to manage immigration with greater effectiveness does not mean we are incapable of empathy toward non-criminal immigrants. Perhaps if government did a better job of culling dangerous illegal immigrants from the herd, there would be more room for immigrants who want to work, achieve a better life and participate in civil life within the American community.

Given our current economic malaise, the hard reality is that there are simply not enough jobs and business opportunities for every immigrant, legal or not, who wants to enter America. Long-term moral solutions to illegal immigration are not pleasant (MOST moral solutions are not pleasant). It may require that American businesses pay higher wages to get legal workers. The Democrat Party may need to get by with fewer voters. Consumers might pay more for goods and services. Businesses may have to settle for leaner profit margins. Republican leaders may need to say no to powerful business interests that fund their campaigns. A greater percentage of immigrants may need to come here temporarily to get an education or vocational skills and return to their country of origin to help make things better there. The U.S. may need to slow all immigration to a trickle to give current immigrants a chance to assimilate and to give authorities time to get a handle on immigration and flush out the bad apples. The U.S. may need to apply economic pressure to Mexico and Central America to shape up and provide economic opportunities and safety to their citizens so that they do not feel desperate to get to America. These are the right things to do, and I believe they do not contradict the Bible.

One thing I know, God hears the cries of desperate immigrants as well as the families of victims like Steinle. If America is going to continue the exploitative immigration policies that result in tragic consequences to our own citizens, we will have some explaining to do before Almighty God. The thing is, our excuses probably won’t deflect God’s judgment. I pray for Kate Steinle’s family as they grieve. I also pray that our leaders grow a moral spine and fix the problems that contributed to her tragic death. That’s the only way they can avoid getting more innocent blood on their hands. Steinle’s death raises a sobering question: Who is more dangerous, illegal immigrant criminals or our political leaders?

SCOTUS giveth and SCOTUS taketh away: The gay marriage sacrifice

upside-down-american-flag-distress-signal

America is my home and I love her despite her shortcomings. I am wed to the land and, more significantly, to the audacious dream of America and what it has meant for humanity. It does not take a prophet to divine that the recent decision by the Supreme Court of the United States legalizing gay marriage has placed the audacious dream of America in a precarious position. While millions of my fellow citizens celebrate the Court’s decision, some of us perceive that the Court’s decision will have the opposite effect of creating a fair and stronger society for all. Before I continue I need to stress that the following argument comes from my identity as Christian American, not just as a Christian.

In a free nation it is inevitable that equal protection under the law of one group will eventually conflict with the equal protection under the law of another group. In the recent epic struggle that landed before the Supreme Court, the gay community won but everyone else lost. How so, you ask? Well, the Sunday after the Court’s decision, my pastor verbalized what I’ve pondered for some time. He said the gay community today has the right to live how they want in America because of the Judeo Christian values that our founders codified into laws that protect the freedoms we all enjoy. If you doubt this, look around the world today at nations that do not have, or never had, a strong Judeo Christian influence and you soon realize that gay people are treated quite poorly in many of those places. The map linked below (Courtesy of Quartz and Pew Research Center) shows countries where gay marriage is legal. Note that most of the countries highlighted have, or at one time had, a strong influence from the Protestant or Catholic Church or both.

Gay Marriage Map

Has the historical and modern church at times stood in the way of gay rights? Yes, but the church has also advocated strongly for human rights. The efforts of Christ’s church have paved the way for much of the freedoms enjoyed by a large swath of humanity today. I know many on the left, secularists, will scoff at this. Sometimes the truth is too painful to bear.

Here’s the rub: By winning before SCOTUS, the gay community has managed to render the First Amendment (which covers all Americans, not just the small gay community) almost impotent. In other words, the gay community used the equal protection under the law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to sacrifice the First Amendment right to religious freedom enjoyed by millions of Americans. It was a selfish and vain attempt by the gay community to achieve happiness and peace via societal acceptance.

As a Christian with a fairly good understanding of human nature, I know this will not give the gay community the peace they crave. Sure, initially there will be celebrations and great happiness in the gay community, but God loves all people and his Spirit draws them to himself. That “drawing to himself” is the uncomfortable feeling that something is not right that each person experiences in life. It turns many people correctly toward God. The only solution to that deep uncomfortable feeling is the acceptance of Christ into a person’s life. But that is a theological subject for another time.

So what happens now in America? It’s hard to say. We have entered uncharted territory, considering that approximately 118 million Americans (this number was compiled from Pew Research data) who are fairly active in their faith have just had their religious freedom compromised. Actually, 320 million Americans (our current total population) just had their religious freedom compromised. For now I do not expect much to change in the lives of most Americans. Nary a week has passed and the issue of gay marriage and religious freedom seems to fade from our collective consciousness as life goes on. But even now I suspect radicals in the gay community are preparing to challenge protestant, evangelical and Catholic churches and faith-based organizations to embrace gay marriage or lose their tax exempt status as well as government funding for many of the social programs offered by the church. I expect that the gay community will attempt to have the government take away tax benefits enjoyed by members of the clergy who refuse to perform gay marriages or let gay couples use church facilities as wedding venues. Christian colleges and K through 12 schools may face attacks if their doctrine, hiring and enrollment practices are not acceptable to the gay community. Christian for-profit businesses will continue to have a target painted on their backs, as recent history has already shown. Gay leaders will continue to insist that people of faith not be allowed to “hide” behind religious freedom (darn that pesky First Amendment) and “discriminate” against gay people.

If the gay community and secular society drive the church into the shadows, one unexpected consequence is that the church will likely grow even more than it did when it enjoyed unlimited religious freedom (Ironic). Another unintended outcome would be that more Americans will realize (when it’s too late) that the church and faith-based organizations carry a tremendous load of social services provided to the needy and marginalized in America and around the world. Will our financially-strapped government step in to fill the gap? Will the gay community? I doubt it.

It is also ironic that by turning to the heavy hand of the federal government (as well as manipulating the opinion of an often obtuse public) for redress of perceived grievances, the gay community has handed the federal government far too much power for any institution to safely wield and still guarantee the sacred rights that apply to all people. Personally I do not believe the church should turn the other cheek at this point in our nation’s history. But while we fight back, we likely need to examine ourselves and stop living hypocritical lives. Hopefully our coming dilemma will prod us to take a hard look at ourselves. The church engages in far too much sin, infighting and turf wars. Too many people in the church want to soak up God’s love without grappling with sin in their lives. Too many do not practice the art of loving each other. Too many pastors and priests have set a horrible example in the conduct of their personal and professional lives. Too many pastors and priests are willing to refuse to marry gay couples while overlooking the plethora of sins in the lives of heterosexuals; sins like cohabitation, substance abuse, gluttony, greed, gossip, anger, racism, absence of love for others, pride, serial marriages, unethical business dealings, just to name a few.

If something doesn’t change, the coming persecution will likely separate genuine Christians from the superficial. I don’t know, maybe God’s spirit will help us now that our comfortable church life could be a thing of the past. In the meantime, what can you do? Pray for our nation as much, or more, than we pray for our individual needs, and pay attention to potential leaders who want our votes. It is time to elect leaders who will appoint judges who know better than to sacrifice one part of the Constitution for another due to the pressures of political correctness.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: It ain’t Sidney Poitier

Rachel Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal

If Caitlyn Jenner married Rachel Dolezal, would it be an interracial same-sex marriage? For those of you living under a rock (I’m seriously thinking about joining you), Rachel Dolezal is the white lady and former leader of the Spokane NAACP who made the news recently because she self-identifies as black. Egad, just when I thought identity-bending couldn’t get any more confusing. It was bad enough when Bruce Jenner switched teams. Back in the day I had a man crush on Jenner when I was in high school because he was a cool jock. But the recent story about Dolezal choosing to be black made me wonder what the hades is going on in American society? Well, when humanity throws me for a loop, I check out the Bible for answers.

Going way back in history, the Bible says God cautioned humanity that those who did not know God or believe in God would eventually find themselves confused and off track about a variety of things in daily life. For instance, Deuteronomy 22:5 says that a man must not wear a woman’s clothes and a woman must not wear man’s clothing because such behavior is detestable in God’s opinion. The inclusion of this warning in the ancient text of the Bible tells me that Bruce-Caitlyn Jenner and the transgender community today are not breaking new ground. There has always been a demographic with a strong inclination to change their gender identity, whether society approved or not. Apparently that fact has now expanded to race, as well. Is the desire to switch teams and become a different gender or race something natural and healthy due to a genetic hiccup in the womb, or does it indicate mental illness? Is it a disability, a lapse in judgment, or a breakdown in character?

Isaiah 5:20 says, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” I find it curious that a significant segment of our population today believes that radical self-transformations like those of Jenner and Dolezal are admirable, brave, and healthy. They say it is a good thing and anyone who disagrees is evil or hateful. They are saying bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. A growing segment of our population is losing the ability to discern the difference between good and evil as well as the difference between healthy and unhealthy.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” These two verses are at the root of many of our problems. We do not ask God about the way we live. That said, allow me to change direction here. What if Jenner’s decision to change gender was indeed the result of years of mental torment because he felt feminine in a masculine body? What if Jenner tried to find healing through every traditional clinical approach without success? What if Jenner asked God for help, but received none? (Yes I know it changes the dynamic if Jenner does not know God, but bear with me.) If that is the case, it is understandable why Jenner would take such drastic action as to change his gender. Given enough pain, EVERY person will try almost anything to make the pain stop. This is true of severe physical as well as mental pain. I know what some of you are thinking: God answers prayer and heals those in pain. I’m sorry, but sometimes God does not answer our every prayer and heal our body and/or mind of every ailment? The reality is that there are times when we are compelled to do whatever it takes to function without pain pushing us to the brink of jumping off a bridge.

I admit that I do not understand why God sometimes allows people to go through severe pain, and I try not to blame God. But in such situations, well, grace becomes priceless. Jenner needs our grace. As for Dolezal, I’m suspicious that her decision to change race was political or influenced by cultural forces, but ultimately I do not know her heart. Don’t get me wrong; I do not believe society should treat the decisions of Jenner and Dolezal with reckless admiration as if they are somehow leading us into a brave new world of utopian tolerance. However, extending grace and compassion to Jenner and Dolezal feels like the right thing to do.

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Draws a Rare Foul

Soccer Ball

Imagine my horror when opening the news and seeing the headline that the U.S. Justice Department, assisted by Swiss authorities, had filed corruption charges against 14 FIFA officials. (Yes that was sarcasm, because like most Americans I had no clue what FIFA was.) Anyhow, the crux of the charges in the indictment surround alleged bribes and kickbacks ($150 million worth) in exchange for votes for host countries of the World Cup and providing lucrative media and marketing rights. The World Cup is the Mecca of world of soccer. It’s where all those soccer moms and dads aspire to see their progeny compete when they grow up.

I do not know if the charges have validity, but it does remind me that the Bible has something to say about bribes. If you do a word search of “bribe” in the Bible, some common themes appear. For example, Deuteronomy 16:19 says, “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.” Fascinating. We in the church spend a lot of time praising God’s grace and soaking up his mercy. We easily forget — to our own peril — that our God of grace and mercy is also the God of Justice and fairness. Bribes have terrible power. Deuteronomy 16:19 warns us that bribes have the power to make even the wise impotent in their discernments. Bribes also dupe otherwise innocent people to justify unethical practices. Bribes in developed countries buy unmerited access.

Human beings are clever, too clever for our own good. In our western sophistication we take the distasteful word “bribe” and turn it into a more palatable word or phrase (a euphemism) such as an “incentive,” or a “gift,” or a “fee,” or a “contribution” . . . the possibilities are many. I once worked for a retail company where our wholesale supplier gave us what they called “premiums” for buying more of their products. The premiums came in the form of TVs, stereos, golf clubs, vacations, tickets to professional sporting events and so forth. Granted, the wholesaler did not expect us to do anything illegal, but they did expect that their premiums would buy our loyalty, even if some of their products were subpar or overpriced. The Bible warns us that bribes, in any form, are dangerous. Bribes spread like cancer throughout a society until they become standard operating procedure. And in the process they weaken trust, which is the foundation of a healthy society.

I noticed that many of the comments under online articles about the FIFA indictments came from people expressing their satisfaction that FIFA leaders were finally, after decades of illicit behavior, going to get their comeuppance (an archaic term used to describe a punishment or fate that someone deserves). While I appreciate that most people have a healthy sense of justice, the fact remains that institutions such as the U.S. Justice Department, despite its vast resources, can’t make people ethical. The law has always been inadequate at forcing people to be ethical. Only the work of God’s spirit can lift people up and heal their ethics, and even then it can take a long time with many ups and downs.

Allow me to swing this topic around to our situation here in America. We have become so sophisticated in our bribery that it can be nearly impossible to discern a bribe from a legitimate business exchange. There is no easy formula to help us navigate away from cleverly camouflaged bribes. The best I can come up with is that a legitimate business exchange would occur naturally even if the bribe was removed from the equation. A bribe gives one party an advantage over others. The person offering the bribe does not have to compete on a level playing field. Ultimately we desperately need a higher percentage of citizens who have sought and encountered Christ. Only then will people have the chance to acquire the necessary spiritual acumen to recognize and reject bribes throughout our society, though it won’t happen without resistance.

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