How To Build A Stronger Core In Turbulent Times

Today we’re watching the Caribbean, Texas, Florida, and Mexico try to recover from hurricanes and earthquakes. Portions of the western United States are engulfed in forest fires. North Korea threatens new war while we continue fighting our longest war in the Middle East. Every evening on the news we see law and order challenged, protesters marching in the streets, vandals burning businesses, and the media using its freedoms to manipulate the public.

As our society advances various social experiments, not knowing yet whether they will advance or harm humanity, we’re experiencing a record number of young people committing suicide, and more people than ever taking drugs to be happy. With careers, families, communities, and nations experiencing increased turmoil, each of us must take it upon ourselves to build a core set of beliefs that will guide us through these troubled waters. It’s the way to stay stable and sane when our lives and world are shaking. Otherwise, we’ll spiral into confused victimization like so many around us.

I think that is why the Bible exhorts us to continually grow stronger. The Bible says in Hebrews 6:1-3,

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.

We all see the world through the lens of our belief systems and our values. This text in Hebrews says we need to know something solid and dependable that will enable us to respond to the challenges of life with strength instead of weakness. As a pastor, the challenge I face is that our culture has opened the door to subjectivity, allowing wrong to be right, and right to be wrong. The result is despair and confusion.

In order to live a successful life, we must develop a foundation, or a core based on wisdom and strength, that will instruct and guide us through the tumult of an uncertain world. We can become pillars that support others needing strength, or we can meld with the crowd of the entitled who depend on others to take care of them. I am saddened when I talk with those who are needy, but it is often their belief systems that leave them exposed to nonsense that is destructive to them, their relationships, and creates for them a more difficult future. We read in Luke 6:39-49,

Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?  I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.  It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.  But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

Here Jesus is saying that the ideas and philosophies we embrace and act upon determine our lives. Ideas are important. Adolf Hitler and Billy Graham embraced contrasting ideas. Adolf Hitler ignited a war that marched millions to their deaths, and Billy Graham sparked a spiritual renewal that inspired millions into life. Both impacted the world, but in very different ways. Ideas matter.

So how do we build a strong internal core? We identify sources of wisdom that have proven strength and stability over time. And we listen to people who have earned the right to be heard through their consistency, their ability to overcome life’s challenges, and their strong and stable lives. In my life it means I read and study the Bible to get ideas that strengthen my core, and I listen to those who have successfully done what I would like to do.

All of us are impacted by the challenges of our shifting world. If we want to succeed in life, we must build a stronger core.

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Is Lent For Us?

This morning a friend sent a text asking if we should participate in Lent. At that moment, I realized that we had so understated so many Christian holidays in our church that it would be good to write a blog to refresh our knowledge of this Christian tradition.

This year the first day of Lent happens to be today, March 1, 2017, Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day for us to remind ourselves of our mortality, sinfulness, and ultimate demise without Christ ( . . . from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. . . ). Lent, then, is a season when Christians have historically focused on simple living: limiting excesses, paying more attention to prayer and the Scriptures, participating more in church, and fasting in one way or another. Lent lasts about one tenth of the year. It is a tithe of our time set aside to focus on God’s priorities in our lives instead of worldly pleasures and living. It’s a season of devotion to God that roughly spans the forty days before Easter, excluding Sundays, because Sundays are a weekly mini-Easter celebration. The final day of Lent this year will be April 15th, the day before our resurrection day celebration, which of course is Easter.

Many Christians see the Lent season as a time to give up some type of food or guilty pleasure, or to begin doing something to strengthen their walk with Christ, which is always a good thing. During this season I often think of the story of the rich man who came to see Jesus. When he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied, “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18: 18-23).

Three things stand out to me in this response: 1.Give something up, 2. Give it to someone who needs it, and 3. Follow Christ.

Gayle and I have decided to give up most of our television watching. It’s true our TV is currently broken–but that is what got us thinking about what we gain when we’re not watching it.

It gives us more time with our family and friends.

In Christ’s response, he wanted the rich man to give up his things for the benefit of others. When our TV broke, we spent more time at our table having meals together. We also discovered we had more time to read, write, go on walks, jog, and talk. And, much to my delight, we even started going to bed earlier which made us feel better in the morning.

Some of you might want to consider other forms of electronic media. Gaming, texting, Facebooking, surfing, etc. All of these consume mass amounts of time. Slow down. Read. Visit. Think. Rest. Regroup.

It keeps the news about current events from dominating my home-life.

With the 24-hour news programs, everything is micro-analyzed and scrutinized. I watched the President’s speech last night (on my son Jonathan’s TV in his bedroom), and this morning when I read the news on my news ap, many of the analyses were slanted very differently than the speech I watched last night. Everything is political right now, and I need time away from endless hype.

That’s what Gayle and I are doing for Lent. Now what about you? If you or your family would like to use the Lent season as an opportunity to go without something in order to be able to give to others, you might discover some unexpected blessings in your life. Some of you might choose to devote the Sunday mornings of Lent to attending church, or some of you might start attending Wednesday evening Bible studies for Lent. A staff member just came in my office and announced he and his friends are giving up eating out at restaurants for Lent.

It’s your decision, and Lent gives all of us a great opportunity to let go of what is not needed, and embrace more of Christ in our lives.

I love serving Him with you.

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The Reality Is — Donald Trump is Our President

Since January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump has been my president. Prior to that, Barack Obama was my president, and prior to that George W. Bush was my president. I joyfully supported Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. And I vividly remember loving my America while Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and LBJ were in the White House. I know, I know, in today’s society where people claim their individuality by saying the New England Patriots are not their Super Bowl Champions and, here in Colorado, pot smokers claim everyday life as “not my reality,” it’s convenient not to carry much responsibility ourselves and to blame others for our disappointments. Life is real, and the mark of maturity is to respond to it realistically and responsibly. I know. I’ve been around since JFK and Eisenhower were also my presidents.

It seems harder to respect presidents nowadays. Not because they don’t deserve it, but because the news media prospers by promoting everything bad. One of our leaders might be perfectly healthy, but experience an upset stomach. The news media will highlight every detail of the physiology of upset stomachs, attach sinister ways the upset was created, add a contrarian view that the upset stomach is a deceptive manipulation that reveals the wickedness of the sick one, and finally advocate that the person with the upset stomach should be thrown out of office, don’t ya think! With these types of journalists, it’s no wonder to me that America, possessing the strongest military in the history of the world, has not won a war since the advent of television news.

The news media has refined criticizing and complaining into marketable skills. They have made nagging public figures a favorite pastime, and have become experts at blame, which is interesting because most journalists have never held the positions of those they critique. They give the impression that they are experts on everything. They’re like little kids on the 3rd grade playground who get their giggles telling everyone some tantalizing secret – remember, “you heard it here first.”

Typically, when I have attended an event covered by the media, or experience an event live on TV or radio, then listen to the news coverage and analysis afterwards, I am dismayed. My concerns about an irresponsible press devoted to the advocacy of their own views instead of accurate reporting are reinforced. One nationally known journalist told me that her peers were incestuous and lazy, copying the work of others and slanting it to fit their own narrative of the world. I’ve watched firsthand as they distort events. But in my world, facts matter and I long for our news media to actually report the facts.

Ok, enough about them. Now about me . . .

I am an establishment Republican and a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I’ve worked and paid taxes all my life, been married to Gayle since 1978, and I tremendously enjoy every member of my family. I live a great life. I like the red barn by my house and the horses in the field. I’m proud of the Air Force Academy across the road and the Olympic Training Center downtown. I am proud of our police and fire departments, and the businesses that provide what we need. I’m grateful for our quality city and state government. I like learning, writing, traveling, speaking, exercising, fighting my fat, and sleeping. I enjoy the people at the church I attend. I especially like the elders and staff in the church I serve. Imagine that! They make ministry a delight. And I like going to New York City and Hawaii for pastors’ meetings with our denominational leaders. I like living in Colorado, and I like hiking the Colorado Trail with my wife and friends. I think bills should be paid, homes and cars should be maintained, and kids should be loved, cherished, and molded into responsible adults. I drive a Ford F-150 pick-up truck, have a gun in my bedroom, and like dogs. I don’t need to vote for change in my culture, I like it the way it is. Go ahead. Hate me.

Enough about me? Now more about me. . .

Now for my reality and my current president — I totally blew it predicting this election. I don’t want to replay the campaigns, and I’m sure you don’t want me to. But this election cycle totally surprised me. When Trump was nominated, I predicted Hillary Clinton would win 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia, not because I was for Clinton, I just couldn’t imagine Trump winning. I was wrong. Trump won.

But how did he do it? I think Forbes Magazine’s article on Jared Kushner (December 20, 2016 issue) is the best explanation I’ve read yet on the Trump strategy that won the election. (It’s excellent and deserves to be studied by everyone). So much has been written and debated about this election, but I have some additional thoughts:

  1. I think the press helped elect Trump: Gayle and I watch DVR recordings of Meet the Press and Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square every week. As we watched these shows and other mainstream media outlets align against Trump and blatantly assail him, it actually endeared us to him. Surprisingly, their prejudice, arrogance, and disrespect triggered our kindness and forgiveness toward Trump. Although he’s offensive to many of our values and even inconsistent with many of my political preferences, when the unelected elites in the press became so passionate that their view of America was the only authentic view, I had to reconsider.

Since I believe in the power of checks and balances, and that our republic will survive and there will be other elections, I’m not troubled by any one single election. I am, though, troubled when we put people on the Supreme Court who do not believe the constitution means what it says. My interest was the Supreme Court, not political personalities. When the press was openly calling a guy like me an idiot, a racist, and a sexist for thinking I wanted a president who would appoint a strict constructionist to the Supreme Court, they impacted me. Was I “nuts” and a “buffoon” to think Scalia’s seat should be filled with someone who believed the constitution should be closely followed? I had, and have, very good reasons not to prefer Trump as president, but the Supreme Court is more important to me than those concerns. The press helped persuade me.

  1. I think Sanders helped elect Trump: I think Sanders had better manners and answered questions more directly than Trump or Clinton, but I’ve traveled the world and know that the compelling language of socialism does not deliver as promised. Since Clinton allowed Sanders to pull her further left, I was again motivated to disregard my concerns about Trump. I believe we are in the early stages of the socialization of America, but I did not want to contribute to that slide. When I learned that 85% of Sanders supporters switched to Clinton, that helped persuade me to shift the other direction.
  1. I think Hillary Clinton helped elect Trump: Clinton’s resume was impressive, and I’m not the guy who is going to hold someone else’s sins against them. And I’m not a sexist, so gender did not play a role in my contemplation. But when she identified aborting children as the “women’s issue” of our generation, and refused to differentiate between someone who immigrates to our country legally from those who come here illegally, I became disenchanted. I just couldn’t support her generalizations or determination to characterize guys like me as enemies of Americanism. It appeared to me that the Democrat party had perfected identity politics (dividing people into groups: women, men, college educated, high school educated, native Americans, blacks, LGBTQ, Hispanics, whites, immigrants, students, etc.), and Clinton repeatedly implied these were warring interest groups instead of diverse Americans who value that we all flavor one another, like various ingredients in a melting pot. I like diversity, but I don’t like politicians who assume differences inherently promote competition and hate.

I want government to help responsible people who need a hand, to aggressively retrain people so we can be competitive in a changing marketplace, and to help the disadvantaged, like my special needs son who, without a miracle, will never be able to help himself. I believe our laws need to be equally applied to all of our citizens regardless of race, gender, or religious or sexual preferences. But when Clinton assumed I was against those needing help or those who were different than me, she sent me the other direction.

I want to be a giver, not a taker. There are lots of good people who pay taxes, obey the laws, and support as many benevolent activities in our communities as we can. We pursue our educations so we can serve others, and keep working past retirement age because we think it’s honorable to work hard. We patronize quality businesses and support those in need. By seeming to come against these good folks, Clinton, in effect, helped Trump.

I think it’s too early to tell if Trump is going to turn out to be a good president, but he is our president. Note that in my opening paragraph that listed all the presidents who have served in my lifetime, I didn’t mention their party. Why? Because once they are elected, it does not matter to me. That’s my reality, and my hope is that regardless of your political party, Facebook friends, or age — regardless of the group you belong to, you’ll see the benefit of making our country work. If you are only accustomed to helping when the person or party you prefer is in power, it might be time to talk to some older folks and learn the value of serving people who are different from you. We have a great country. Let’s all serve it well.

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A Proactive Paradigm for Contemporary Ministry

The next twenty-five years may present great opportunities for humanity to alleviate some human suffering, and we Evangelicals are positioned to seize the day.

Right now we are in two major transitions in the medical field. First, Prior to this generation, our physicians have focused on healing us from diseases, sicknesses, and the results of accidents. Increasingly, though, our physicians are working on making us happier, helping us live longer, and improving our cognitive abilities. Secondly, when we visit doctors, we are dependent on their knowledge and the expertise of their team. However, within a few years, Watson, a super computer that will possess data from thousands of similar patients as well as the results of the most current research, will assess our symptoms and assist our doctors in determining the plan that will work best for us.

Soon we will be able to lower the propensity for many diseases in our children because of breakthroughs in assisted reproductive technology. For example, if there is a heart problem in Dad’s family, or a tendency toward cancer or mental illness in Mom’s, we can identify that risk and improve the odds for greater health in our children, even before they are born. This development is not bad or evil. It’s beneficial for alleviating suffering.

With the explosion of innovation all around us, we Evangelicals need to be intentional about motivating our children to fully participate in cutting edge scientific development because we want intelligent Christians in the room as these advances are taking place. It will not serve anyone well for them to be outside critiquing the newest innovations after the fact.

When I was a little boy my Dad, along with many other evangelical Christian conservatives, was not supportive of Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights’ movement because King was an adulterer and opposed the Viet Nam War. Now we know that King probably kept America’s cities from burning because King, a Baptist preacher with an earned doctorate in Systematic Theology from Boston University, provided leadership for non-violent protests to challenge racial inequality. If King had not been dominant, Malcolm X, the violent Muslim civil rights leader, would have led the movement and we might have had a second civil war. My Dad missed the point: winning civil liberties for all was more important than King’s shortcomings.

I do not mean to minimize the importance of personal holiness, but I do believe we evangelicals have been sidetracked. Many of the developments of modernity have proven to be the friend of the human race, yet we evangelicals often ignorantly position ourselves as resistors when humanity is on the brink of improvement. I thank God King was able to move race relations forward, even though for the most part evangelicals didn’t help him. Likewise, we Christians are lackluster and lagging behind in support of the benefits that will come from human genome research, or even self-driving cars that will help the poor like few other innovations.

We Christians have enjoyed being the creative force of the world in the past. Christianity promoted the idea that all humans were equal before God, thereby influencing human political structures, social hierarchies, and even gender relations. Furthermore, we elevated Jesus’ teachings that God favors the meek and oppressed, thus turning the pyramid of state power on its head, and providing impetus for generations of revolutionaries against tyranny, as well as the underpinnings for democracy as we know it today.

In addition to the many social and ethical reforms that sprung from the hearts of God-fearing Christians, economic and technological innovations are also rooted in Christian ideas. The Catholic Church established medieval Europe’s most sophisticated administrative system, and pioneered the use of archives, catalogues, timetables and other techniques of data processing. The Vatican was the closest thing twelfth-century Europe had to Silicon Valley. The Church established Europe’s first economic corporations — the monasteries — which for 1,000 years spearheaded the European economy and introduced advanced agricultural and administrative methods, and were the first institutions to use clocks. Furthermore, for centuries monasteries and the cathedral schools they operated were the most important learning centers of Europe, helping to found many of Europe’s first and finest universities.

Many of the ideas that constitute civilized society sprang from biblical theology: care for the disabled instead of believing them cursed, care for the sick instead of believing them demonized, universal education because all are created in the image and likeness of God, orphanages because of the biblical exhortation to care for orphans, social safety nets because of the biblical exhortation to care for the widows and the poor, etc.

Now we are teetering into a time period where understanding biotechnology and computer algorithms is going to be key to success and influence. The main products moving humanity forward in the twenty-first century will be bodies, brains, and minds. I think it’s time for our youth groups to teach more than abstaining from sex before marriage, and teach our sharpest and brightest that they can use the moral compass instilled in them by God’s Holy Spirit to advance the human condition through technology and economics. Many in our current leadership lack the breadth of understanding to encourage the teaching of technological innovation and creation-care (environmentalism). Because of it, our students are often blind-sided when expected to understand why we need Watson in every medical facility and self-driving cars to help everyone travel safely.

Frankly, when I read the posts or comments of many Spirit-filled Christians, I think they are ideologues who have no idea where the Cheerios come from in their local grocery store. Christendom laid the foundation for the enlightenment, representative government, and the scientific method, and the benefits we’ve received from innovation, creativity, the growth of representative government, free and fair trade, law and order, and an inventive and productive marketplace. But the gap between those who know how to engineer bodies, brains, and minds and those who limit their Scriptural exposure to passages predicting future disaster and collapse will widen.

Those who use ideas and insight that comes from God’s Spirit within to learn, study, grow, invent, produce, and create will move the human race forward. Those constantly obsessed with the morality of others, the destruction of the world, and the demise of 1950s values will be the cave dwellers of the future — totally irrelevant.

The human race is moving forward. It’s time for our churches to be catalysts for think-tanks of innovation and creativity again in order to improve human existence, rather than producing reactionaries capitalizing on every opportunity to raise a concern, criticize, and blame. We’ve been beating the same dead horses for two generations now. It’s time to move forward.

Researchers say 70% of the students who grow up in our church youth departments walk away from their faith during their university training. Why is that? I think it’s because many of our church leaders subtly believe innovation and the future are our enemies. God is an orderly God. He created the heavens and the earth so the scientific method works, he has given us intelligence to understand and produce in order to bless all, the godly and ungodly alike. Because of this we evangelicals should make positive contributions to help alleviate human suffering in the time we have on planet earth rather than waste our lives as nay-sayers scrutinizing the sinners that surround us.

Let’s move forward.

 

Recommended Reading: How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt.

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Year End Charitable Donations

During this season when so many dollars are being spent on soliciting your charitable giving, I just want to encourage you to prefer your local church. I understand your church probably does not have a marketing agency designing web promotions, billboard, and television ads to encourage you to give. Most churches do not spend money on graphic artists selecting emotionally moving pictures to encourage you to give. And most churches do not even spend funds to send you Christmas pictures. But research has shown that local churches are the most accountable with expenditures, most effective at actually impacting a community for good, and more focused on providing goods and services to their communities per dollar spent than any other type of group.

Certainly many organizations are doing good work, and we thank God for the good that’s done through all charities, but often we take our local churches for granted.

I know that we go to a variety of styles of churches, or maybe none at all. Research shows that the variety of churches in a community helps the community even more, because more people (with varying preferences) are served. Churches facilitate volunteerism more than any other type of charity, thus maximizing impact. Churches also provide multi-generational services, providing a family dynamic that few other charities have. And churches, of course, promote Christ and His Word, where many others are forbidden to do so, or choose to minimize the Gospel because they fear offending those who are not believers.

Communities with strong local churches are very different than communities with no churches. Churches are important. So please remember your local church when giving this season, and if you don’t go to one, send a gift to a local church. It’s a good investment.

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People Crumbling Internally

I think too many people are emotionally weak. Of course, I was raised on a farm with three older brothers, so I don’t recall anyone getting away with the type of whining that makes news today.

In the past we were kept somewhat sober because disease, famine, and war highlighted our vulnerabilities. They were brutal reminders that we were not in control. However, ours is the first generation in which more of us will die from eating too much than from eating too little; from old age rather than from infectious diseases; or from suicide rather than from soldiers, terrorists, and criminals combined. My friends and I are far more likely to die from binging at McDonald’s than from drought, Ebola, or an al-Qaeda attack. We’re the first generation in which starvation, epidemics, and violence continue to be serious, but are, in fact, manageable. In response, it seems as though we are replacing our external fears with internal conflicts, which makes us increasingly appear like babies.

We’re getting soft. I just saw a news story on ABC about an over-weight elementary-age boy whose mom brought him to see Santa. He asked Santa for an I-Pad and a Play station, both of which produce sedentary activities that would keep him in the house, looking at screens, and probably eating snacks. Santa teasingly responded that he would give the boy his request if he would lay off the hamburgers. The story went on to report that the kid cried all afternoon and even cried himself to sleep that night. Apparently Santa wounded him. In response, the boy’s Mom demanded Santa apologize (which he did) and that he be fired. Certainly there are multiple causes for obesity and I don’t know her son’s reasons. But what I do know is that now her son’s emotional sensitivity is empowered.

I’ve noticed the church also having to deal with a heightened emotional sensitivity among worshippers. When I was growing up, we went to church because we were Christians . . . period. We did not go for entertainment, soothing, or therapy. As I think about attending First Presbyterian Church in our small farming community, I don’t think anyone cared how we felt about it. We needed to know the facts to live well, so we learned the Scriptures, worshipped, served, and returned the next week to worship again. I never remember my parents discussing whether or not we would go to church, or even whether or not they liked the church. Their view was that the church provided an important and firm foundation for our lives. It was based on the truths of the Scriptures and timeworn logic and wisdom. It was fundamental because the alternatives were not acceptable. It was reasonable and had a core of conviction about it and was not subject to our whims or approval . . . and certainly not our feelings.

But today it seems as though we have replaced the Scriptures and logic with emotional sensitivity and personal exaltation. I don’t know if this comes from television, humanism, social media, or all of us feeling entitled because we’ve been raised with benefits earned by others, but we sure seem spoiled.

Even Saturday Night Live is now mocking this trend. Their recent skit “Wells for Boys,” is a spoof advertisement of “toys for sensitive boys,” so sensitive little boys can “live a more examined life.” These toys include a wishing well for little boys to sit beside and contemplate, a broken mirror to remind our boys of “the complex contradictions of their being,” and a plastic balcony so they can express themselves. The SNL skit mocks the overly sensitive way we’re creating weak children.

I don’t typically watch Saturday Night Live, so for me, the tipping point was the emotional response to Clinton losing the presidential election. I have to admit, Trump’s victory caught me by surprise. I knew Clinton had the experience, money, and machinery that would be difficult to overcome. As a Republican, I accepted the expectation that Clinton would win the presidency, Democrats would retake the Senate, and the Supreme Court would move left.

But the actual results were very different. It turned out that Trump won the White House, the Republicans kept the House and the Senate, and the conservatives will have opportunity to fill one seat, maybe two, in the Supreme Court.

When Democrats started blaming their losses on others, protesting in the streets, burning police cars, and damaging private property, I questioned what they expected to accomplish and if they were emotionally healthy. If these responses were, in fact, intentional, then the protesters looked like leftists in third-world countries overthrowing democratic processes because, in their arrogance, they could not understand another point of view – believing everyone else must be ill informed or misled. Or, if they were upset and reacting emotionally and spontaneously, then they were just throwing a fit because they didn’t get their way and wanted everyone to know they were angry.

Either way, we need more adults in the room.

They say the diversity we have always had in America has morphed into bitter divisions. Perhaps this idea is due in part to political parties, scholars, and the press who have grouped us by our age, our race, our gender, our faith, our education, our professions, our sexuality, etc., in order to highlight and contrast the severity of our differences. No doubt, it makes their presentations more interesting. When there is tension, more people pay attention than when there is peace. As a result, those institutions, which rely on followers, students, and ratings, have no incentive to help America be a melting pot where we all can benefit from and enjoy one another’s strengths in an atmosphere of respect. Oh, they do give it lip service, but with every newscast and opportunity in our classrooms, pundits and lecturers irritate their audiences by pitting groups against one another. They encourage us to feel like emotionally damaged victims and, in effect, be selfish children willing to defame Santa because he doesn’t give us what we want and make us feel good.

I suggest that instead of simple emotional reactions, maybe we ought to think and let wisdom dominate our emotions. We have a choice. We can crumble internally, yell, scream, block traffic, hurt people, burn police cars, and bust out the windows of our businesses to show the world we did not get what we wanted. Or we can grow up, toughen up, and respond constructively to life’s circumstances. When we are emotionally strong, we can build peaceful communities, solid churches, and a great country. I think we should opt for the latter. Our survival in a brutal world may depend on it.

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Responsible Christian Citizens In A Constitutional Republic

On my desk right now is The Voice of the Martyrs magazine that reports on the plight of Christians in countries that do not practice a government by and for the people. Today I’m reading about Hindu radicals attacking and killing Christians, about eight year old Nankpak who watched his mother lie face down on the ground pretending to be dead as screaming Islamic extremists surrounded her, about 10 year old Luis and his brother, who hid under their bed from guerrilla fighters who were mercilessly killing Christians in their village, and about Christian children who have been attacked in their homes by mobs led by Buddhist monks.

The difference between these situations and those of us Christians living in America is the Judeo-Christian culture and the constitutional government from which we all benefit. So, I’m never upset by the results of fair, legal elections in the United States. I’m grateful. And considering the plight of Christians in other nations, I’m not sympathetic to the whiners, on either side of our political debates.

Politics matter, and elections are important. Political ideas lead to benefits or consequences; and political policies lead to prosperity or poverty, responsibility or dependence, peace and safety or rebellion and mayhem.

My personal political philosophy is based on ideas that I believe provide the most opportunity, along with the most goods and services for the most people, at the best value. I’m not a communist or socialist because I believe those ideas create poverty, discourage innovation, and limit opportunity. Simply put, I’m a conservative Republican. I like that we are a republic and not a simple democracy. Some might see me as fiscally conservative and socially moderate, but I’m a strict constitutionalist and believe that we are a nation of laws that should be enforced equally and uniformly, regardless of who is in office. I am a law and order guy. I want the judiciary to be independent and the economy to be based on free and fair markets with free and fair trade. I believe in opportunity. I like good government that does what it does well, but not expansive government with excessive intrusion. Why? Because I believe individuals, and the businesses and benevolent organizations they form, provide most of the goods and services we all need.

I’ve seen the consequences of naïve political policies. I’ve led believer’s meetings in Communist countries, Islamic countries, socialist countries, secular-humanist countries, and so-called Christian countries. Most Christian people are wonderful people wherever you find them, but the political and cultural differences they have to deal with are remarkably diverse, and sometimes deeply painful.

Which brings me to my point: since I am a Christian, my faith informs my politics. I know a quality political philosophy is good for all of our citizens and for the world; it’s not just for guys like me. So we need to be competent thinkers when it comes to assessing our politics . . . especially when political activists use our religious leaders to mobilize voters.

Bear with me now, and think with me, for a few paragraphs.

In this last election, Bible-believing Christians passionately participated on both sides of our democratic debate.

The confessing Christian, Hillary Clinton, who carries a Bible, forgave her one and only husband’s infidelities and says she stayed in her marriage because of her Christian faith, who regularly quotes Scripture with accuracy and familiarity, and who is an active member of the Methodist Church, lost. Politically, she’s liberal.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, who has children by all three of his wives, who claims to have never asked God for forgiveness, who is an inactive Presbyterian who attended church with regularity only when his father took him as a child to hear Norman Vincent Peale’s messages on positive thinking, and who does not know the meaning of the bread and wine at church, won. Politically, he ran as a conservative.

Political elections are primarily about political ideology. With a high percentage of our population being people of faith, faith leaders often use their influence to convince their followers that God has chosen the candidate that aligns with their own political ideology.

And sadly, faith leaders often willingly participate because they deeply long to be influential and powerful. They want their followers to believe political leaders respect them, so a photo op for many religious leaders is like whisky for an alcoholic. Many religious leaders, especially media driven religious leaders, thrive on media impressions of influence.

It’s all part of persuasion.

We must be above all of that.

Let’s all go to church this week and be responsible Jesus followers. Let’s be wise citizens, not rabid activists. Regardless of what the nations do, we know how to be the church in the midst of it all. We know how to be steady, wise, consistent, contented, and faithful. Let’s be Responsible Christian Citizens in our Constitutional Republic.

Never Underestimate the Power of Mediocrity

Recently my wife, Gayle, and I were on vacation in Virginia. We had no set schedule so we enjoyed leisurely mornings, the World Series, a couple of movies, a dinner theater, walking tours through Jamestown and Yorktown, and carriage rides through historic Williamsburg.

One evening while strolling through Williamsburg, I concluded that the best things in life come from the things we might not consider extraordinary. Walking through a peaceful historic site holding the hand of my favorite person, cleaning out the garage with my kids, tidying the yard on a Saturday morning, riding bikes with friends, loading the dish washer while the kids play, and going to church on Sunday mornings all took on special meaning. And even though the culture we live in increasingly demands that everything be sensational, big, meaningful, dramatic, and life-altering, I’ve started to believe that our lives are strengthened or ruined on average, mediocre days and that the power of our mediocre days shouldn’t be underestimated.

Certainly we also need special days like Christmas and Thanksgiving, but Christmas and Thanksgiving are either delightful or painful depending on what we did on our average, mediocre days. If an adulterous affair started on an average Tuesday, Christmas is no longer the celebration it used to be. If a drug addiction took hold on an average Friday night, the silence from the empty chair at the Thanksgiving table is felt by everyone in the family. If a baby was conceived during an illicit sexual encounter on an average Wednesday afternoon, several families will never be the same.

On the other hand, if we endeavor to read and learn on average days, to do our work well, to be contented with family life, to be satisfied with an evening at home or a nice game of dominos with our family or friends, and to enjoy a predictable church service, we might experience more fulfillment on our special days. Could it be that being satisfied with the basics of life sets the stage for greater personal security, greater financial success, more meaningful careers, and a secure family with a trusted set of friends?

We Christians have a challenge. Now that market forces are demanding that our churches be more sensational and extraordinary, expectations are changing and we’re increasingly thinking our believers’ meetings should be like the news, football, and the movies– dramatic! exciting! moving! life-changing! As a result, those who are in leadership are increasingly expected to entertain and be sensational, rather than be fathers, able to nurture healthy spiritual families.

No doubt, we still need to climb the mountains, run the marathons, and achieve competence and excellence. But to compliment achievement, we also need to value a foundation of strength and stability that isn’t driven by the latest sensation. Again, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of mediocrity.

I pastor St. James Church in Colorado Springs, and I actually embrace mediocrity. I don’t need more drama from people who believe Facebook friends are truly friends, the current social media gossip, the latest revelation of a television preacher who second-guesses scholarly Bible translators, a seminar to inspire me or a conference led by so called “super-apostles” to teach me family life . . . especially when they have had multiple wives and their children are taking another trip through rehab. I don’t blame them, nor do I condemn them. I’m glad they are serving the body the best they can. But actually I prefer cleaning out the garage with my kids, and maybe we Christians need church leaders who enjoy doing the same.

I like everything the church is doing to reach the un-churched, to be authentic and relevant, and to serve those who want to grow in Christ. I also occasionally enjoy emotionally charged services. I enjoy them, but I don’t need them. I am contented.

Maybe we would all be wise to discover the value of our families in our local churches again. Learning those relational dynamics might be more valuable for strengthening our lives and demonstrating the gospel than the latest revelation, popular speaker, Christian television program or blog.

This morning Gayle and I dropped by our son, Marcus, and his wife, Sarah’s, home for a late breakfast. Afterwards, I settled in on the sofa to write this blog with Gayle reading next to me. Marcus sat down to his computer, still in his pajamas, to finish working on a legal memo; Sarah and her Mom, Meg, are on the back porch swing talking about the grandkids. My granddaughters, Hadessah and Norah are painting with Sarah’s sister, Emily, who is home on leave from the Air Force, and my grandson, Emerson, is taking a nap. It’s the kind of Saturday that creates great lives.

The plaque on the wall over their breakfast table reads, “Enjoy the little things in life . . . for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”

I treasure mediocre days.

Christians In A Post-Truth Era

Are we living in a generation in which feelings and impressions are as significant as facts? Scholars are beginning to talk about this phenomenon in our culture — which they label the Post-Truth Era.

We see evidence of this phenomenon in the church world as well. A generation ago when people were looking for a church, they wanted to know the creed of the church—the facts, the foundation of the church’s belief system. Now, though, researchers tell us that over 95% of people in our generation choose their churches based on how they feel as they leave the service.

Over 70% of Christians think the purpose of the church is to meet their human needs, and over 50% of Bible School and Seminary students think their calling is to meet these human needs. This is a stark departure for the church. We’ve always believed that the role of the church is to glorify God, and that the calling of our Christian leaders is to help people find their greatest fulfillment by learning to glorify God. Glorifying God is the door through which Christians have always walked in order to have their own needs met and to meet the needs of others. To reverse this order fundamentally changes the centrality of Christ in our lives and our calling to serve him by serving others.

We are the Church, the eternal institution God established on the earth that provides stability and consistency in our changing world. We know how to be the Church in free- market, democratic countries, and in Islamic countries, Communist countries, Socialist countries, rich countries, and poor countries. We know how to be the Church regardless of the trends we see in the world. At least we have known how to be the Church in times past. However, our greatest threat might be upon us—a post-truth world where foundations don’t matter, and core truth is no more significant than an impression or a feeling.

Jesus warned us about this in Luke 6:39-49:

Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.

 And why worry about the speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

He went on to say,

A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thorn-bushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

He concluded these thoughts with an exhortation for us to establish a firm foundation that will endure any societal trends:

So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the flood-waters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.

I believe the god of the American church has become money and attendance (or size of audience), and that the role of leaders has become image management and damage control. I fear many church boards spend their time accumulating assets and/or protecting them, and that we in the Church have spiraled into a delusion thinking worldly approval and influence is our charge. This is an unstable foundation that God’s work cannot be built upon. If we continue on this path, the unintended consequences will be diminishing influence and loss of purpose, which will leave our churches empty, our leaders worldly, and our hearts cold.

Now is the time to return and be faithful to our foundations.

The writer of Hebrews said,

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.

What?!?! These issues are not interesting to the modern attendee of the American Church. We need videos, lights, emotion, contemporary illustrations from news, sports, and other relevant happenings in our lives that inspire a fresh, prosperous atmosphere that makes us feel good. We need Starbucks in the lobby and bright colors to make our kids happy. We need relevant topics intermingled with some Scripture. After all, that’s the way to grow a church.

I don’t believe it.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with Starbucks, bright colors, and relevant topics IF they are used to establish people firmly in the facts and faith of the Gospel . . . but they must not replace it. The evidence indicates that most Christians have been duped into believing that inspiration equals core conviction. That’s not going to work.

Hebrews 5:12-13 says,

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right.

The greatest test of the American church is looming on the horizon. The upcoming election and its results will continue promoting a dramatic cultural change away from our Judeo/Christian heritage. Christian political activism will not change that slide, but the church being the church will help. If we have a solid foundation in the Word and Spirit in our lives, we’ll do fine being salt and light. If we don’t, our emotions will motivate us to be worldly power-players like everyone else. We will continue to be consumed with the speck in the eyes of others, unaware of the plank in our own. It’s time to let truth prevail in us, even in this post-truth era.

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Living On The Margin

The BBC headline today read “I woke in a stranger’s bed, says university rape victim.” The lead on the story says, “Alice Irving woke up in a stranger’s bed after a night out drinking during her second year as a graduate student.” The article goes on to report that Alice accused the stranger of rape, stating she had been in no fit state to give consent for sex.

No doubt, having a sexual encounter while drunk and unable to give consent is rape and should be punished accordingly. I have no intention of excusing any rapist’s behavior. I do, though, believe there is a lesson to be learned that could help prevent these types of events from happening. That lesson is—everything we do and everywhere we go changes our odds for certain events to take place.

I am the father of five adult children, and I’ve always taught them, “Nothing good happens past midnight.” Obviously, that’s not totally true, but it is true that if teenagers are home in bed asleep between midnight and sunrise, the chances of them getting into trouble, or being harmed in a car accident, or involved in late-night violence decreases significantly.

People who are in Church on Sunday mornings are very seldom killed in hunting accidents on Sunday mornings.

People who never take heroin do not overdose on heroin.

Our choices change our odds, and when we make choices, they are our responsibility whether they are thoughtful decisions or the result of foolish impulses.

All adults know that alcohol lowers inhibitions. So is it surprising that most date rapes happen after people have been drinking together? As I said earlier, it does not justify the rape, but it does involve a conscious decision to lower your inhibitions and be around other people who are also lowering theirs. Thus, everyone is choosing to take greater risks.

Trinity Gay, the 15-year-old daughter of Olympian Tyson Gay, was tragically shot and killed at 4:00 in the morning. No excuse for it, and the shooters need to be arrested, tried, and convicted. There is simply no justification for a tragedy like this, but if Trinity had been in bed at 4:00 in the morning, she would have increased her odds of avoiding this tragedy. But instead, by choosing to be out at 4:00 in the morning, she lowered her odds for safety.

I know it’s true that people also get shot at 4:00 in the afternoon, but the odds are lower for anyone to be shot at 4:00 in the afternoon than they are for someone to be shot at 4:00 in the morning. That’s my point – we can all affect our odds.

I believe it’s wise to treat people with respect, have manners, and respond when any authority asks us to do something. Those ideas increase our odds for living a long, prosperous life. However, if we choose to be disrespectful to others, or to be belligerent in public, or to challenge authority, our odds change.

You are safer if you drive the speed limit, wear your safety belt, and pay attention to the road. Certainly, some people do this and still get killed in car accidents. But the chances of getting killed in a car accident goes up for those who speed, don’t wear their safety belts, or are distracted.

Your odds of having the funds you need to live a comfortable life are also better if you have an education or training that gives you marketable skills. My friend Peter Sekovski says some think an education is too expensive, but he argues it’s not nearly as expensive as ignorance. But then again, it’s the odds.

Football players have a greater chance of having knee and brain problems later in life. Basketball players can look forward to greater chances of lower back pain as they age. People who have children out-of-wedlock have a greater chance of needing counselors and lawyers later in life to work with their kids. It’s the odds. We all need to be aware of them.

Going to a party? How will the people and activities at the party change your odds of having a bright future? How would those odds change if you went to a Bible study instead? Just a thought.

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