Learning How to Forgive

Now more than ever it seems that forgiveness is an area in which we all need improvement. Sometimes people do things to us intentionally to hurt or wound us. Other times the offense is not intended but damages nonetheless. When we are hurt our response is often to hold on to the grievance. It fuels our anger and animosity towards others. We often forget that we have the same ability and inclination to wound others. It’s easier to forgive our own sin and failure than to forgive others who wound us. This was part of the point of Jesus telling us to “remove the plank from our own eyes before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.” We live in a “BUT THEY…” culture. Jesus says, “Forgive,” and we respond, “BUT THEY…!” We prefer the hurt over the healing and the forgiveness. We demand justice before we will even entertain the thought of forgiveness.

But the Bible doesn’t place any limitations or restrictions on forgiveness. There’s no tally we keep and, once we reach a certain point, refuse to extend forgiveness any more. Forgiveness is an attitude – something that can be extended even before the offender asks. It can be extended even if the offender NEVER asks. Jesus asked God to forgive his murderers, not because they deserved it, but because forgiveness is part of God’s character.

Real forgiveness, then, is what we ought to seek. Real forgiveness lets go of the right to get even or pursue justice and instead extends compassion and love. Real forgiveness is not deserved or earned – it is a gift from the one who is hurt to the one who does the hurting. The Apostle Paul writes: Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord (Romans 12:19). We can forgive and leave payment up to God. He frees us to love. Forgiveness fosters love. Refusing forgiveness fosters hate.

But we don’t forgive because it’s the nice thing to do. We forgive because it is God’s nature to forgive. As we seek to be faithful followers of Christ, we need to be letting his nature become our nature. Paul writes again, “Accept one another and forgive one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive” (Colossians 3:13). And again, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God forgave you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:32). Our forgiveness wasn’t earned. In fact, the Bible tells us that God showed us his love in that Christ died for us while we were sinners. We were broken and messed up and he chose to extend love and forgiveness.

It doesn’t end there. Extending or withholding forgiveness can affect our relationship with God. Jesus says, “If you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” Tough words to live by, but I didn’t make them up. God calls us to live in forgiveness and reconciliation if we want to have a healthy and vibrant relationship with Him.

Ultimately, forgiveness brings freedom. It allows us to have healthy lives. It opens the door to reconciliation and makes for richer relationships. Our world is being torn apart by hate, hurt, and an unwillingness to forgive. As Christians we can set the example for the way God calls us to live – we can extend love and forgiveness, even when people don’t deserve it. It’s the only way forward.

How about you? Do you have any experience being forgiven by someone else even when you didn’t deserve it?

Bad Things Happen to Good People

Feeling Stronger Every Day
Feeling Stronger Every Day

Karma’s a joke. It’s a joke we love to believe in, isn’t it? The whole premise of the best-selling book “The Secret” is that good things will come to you if you put out good things into the world (vibes, energy, whatever you want to call it).

I call it hogwash.

It doesn’t take any adult very long in this world to see that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Conversely, sometimes good things happen to bad people. There’s no promise that putting put positivity will return positivity to you. In fact, one of the questions the Old Testament wrestles with is how bad people can lead horrible lives and still have everything they want and go to the grave having had a fantastic life. It just isn’t fair.

I was having a conversation with a woman today who told me that she still believes that being a good person will ultimately result in good things happening because people are more likely to want to help you, like when you’re stopped on the side of the road with a flat tire. “HOLD ON,” I told her.

I agree with you that our behavior has the ability to influence how others respond to us. If people know that I am a decent and caring human being then there is a good chance that people will be decent and caring towards me. If I’m a real jerk then people will probably not be as inclined to help me. But that’s not karma. That’s interpersonal relationships. The side of the road analogy IS karma, and that’s garbage.

My goodness (or badness) is not going to influence a driver who passes me in my distress. I personally have no impact over a stranger driving by. Karma doesn’t work. But here’s the thing – a lot of people base their own behavior on this idea that do good and good happens. Do bad and bad things happen. I find this to be a very flawed view of ethics. In essence it says, “I will only behave appropriately because I believe that I will personally benefit from it at some point in time.”

This is no standard for ethical behavior. It is inconsistent, and the definition of “good behavior” subjectively changes from one person to another. There must be something more – some greater force that drives human behavior. This is where Christian faith steps up and says, “There IS a standard – God’s standard.” And every human behavior does have a consequence. We might not see consequences in this lifetime. We might have the good people suffer and the bad people succeed, but no one escapes the final reckoning. The Bible is clear that there will be a time when we all stand before God and give account of our lives.

I know many people who are going through difficult times right now. Some have relationship problems. Some have financial problems. Some have other problems. Just because you are a good person doesn’t mean you will have a good and easy life. So then what drives us to be good people?

It should be our relationship with God. In the Bible he tells us that he wants us to imitate him: his character and behavior. If I live out what I say I believe then I will be trying to make God’s character my character. This is the only foundation of ethical behavior that will hold fast no matter what circumstances might come our way. In the good times I strive to act like him. In the bad times I strive to act like him. Those ethics are constant in an ever changing world.

No matter how good you are you are not promised good things. Jesus, the best human, still had bad things happen to him. It’s not about karma. It’s about living up to the character and calling God gives us. So kick karma goodbye. Say adios, sayonara, or use whatever language you like. But the secret to The Secret is that there is no secret. We are good because God asks us to be, not because we want good things to happen to us.

How about you? Do you struggle with letting go of the idea of karma?

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Related Posts:
~ That Voodoo that You Do: Getting Control of Your World

Reflections on Racism From a Mixed-Race Couple

In the still-festering mess of the Ferguson ordeal, I thought it was appropriate to bring back a post we wrote after the Zimmerman ordeal not too long ago…

Racial Tension

You have to live under a rock to have missed the verdict from the George Zimmerman trial.

This post is NOT about the trial or the verdict, but about an issue that this debacle brought up: racial profiling.  While I am not an expert on race relations or sociology, I am a white man who is married to a black woman, and we tend to take issues concerning race relations personally. For that reason, I’ve asked my wife to co-author this post with me. We do understand that this is a volatile issue and want to be sensitive, but race needs to be talked about.

We still live in a racist nation. Skin color and ethnic background play a huge role in personal identity and separating ourselves from others who are different. Just take a quick look at some Twitter posts or the comments section under news articles about the Zimmerman verdict and you will see an overwhelming number of hateful remarks towards people with different ethnicities. There is racism on both sides – it’s not a one-way street.

We have experienced American racism ourselves. While visiting family in Salt Lake City, Utah (a predominantly white area), we went out to the mall. We drew stares and odd looks from people while walking in public holding hands. It was palpable. At one point we passed another mixed race couple (a black man and white woman). We made eye contact and there was a nod of greeting and a look that passed between us of understanding, of solidarity. as if to say, “We understand.”

While the Bible calls us to live in harmony and that, in Christ Jesus, all old ethnic markers don’t matter, we have yet to really live as though there is no longer Jew or Gentile, Black or White, Latino or Asian. We hold to our ethnic identity more than we do our spiritual identity.

And so we’ll hit our theme: Racial Profiling

Chris:

Profiling is a normal part of how the human brain works to process and interpret information. This is not just about race but is true in other areas of life. When we see something or someone our brain compares it to past examples or experiences and then classifies that new thing or person based on what is already up in the old noodle. OF COURSE we are more than the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the way we smell or the way sound. But we are sensory people and someone’s experience of me is going to be based on their senses and the memories connected to those senses.

Is it right to judge someone in this way? No, it is not. But it’s a trait common to humanity. Seeing someone in skinny jeans messy hair carries associations in my head. The same with seeing someone in a coat and tie. People have made an issue out of Zimmerman profiling Martin because of his skin color and clothing. Even if subconscious, I think Zimmerman would have seen Martin and made certain associations based on appearance. Hear me out – I don’t think that profiling is a valid excuse for treating people poorly, but it helps us understand that we’re all in the same boat.

A real-life example: listen to black comedians imitate white people. They frequently use a nasal tone when impersonating whites. Do all whites sound like that? No, we don’t, but there are mental associations based on sensory memory. The problem is when we allow sensory memory to influence how well or how poorly we treat others. Then we’re judging the book by its cover and never really opening the book to see what it has to say.

It’s hard because it’s normal, but racism will never die as long as we are permitting our senses to dictate who and what a person is like before actually experiencing what a person is like.

Tené:

FACT: Simply because of the shade of my skin in some situations I am considered a less valuable/trustworthy customer, colleague, group member, participant, professional, driver…. I am treated differently. I look different, so I am labeled as “other than” and frequently for people of color that label silently morphs into “less than.” This less worthy mentality allows us to value people differently.

I am reminded of the recent deluge of racist tweets over the Hunger Games movie when a fan of the books admitted that they were less sad about a character’s death and did not want to see the movie once they learned that a beloved character did not, in fact, have blond hair and blue eyes but had “dark-brown” skin (she was a person of color).

And so, after all these years, we are still here. A persons’ value, and the value of his life, is determined by the amount brownness in their skin. What is really shocking is that, although fans had gotten to know her as and love her as a character, those feelings quickly turned to disgust when her skin tone was changed on them. If people can turn on a beloved fictional character at the drop of a hat I wonder about how horribly people with this mindset could treat someone that they do not know or care about? That doesn’t even take into account hair, dress, manner of speaking, gait, etc….

Sure, all of us project an image, but that image should never prevent us from being treated without decency, common courtesy, and (dare I even say it)…respect. The question for us as Christians should not be “What are others projecting?” but “Who are we reflecting?” Is Jesus seen in how we treat others? A person’s clothing, skin, smell, or other appearance should not matter to me as much as faith that we share.

Back to Chris:

Unfortunately we live in a world where we look at appearances and make judgments long before we get to know people. It’s part of how we’re wired. Even my wife buys into it (without realizing it) and tells me I need to shave before church events because the clean-shaven look projects a different image than a scruffy pastor!

IN DEALING WITH OURSELVES: On a practical level, then, we do project an image – an idea – of ourselves to people long before people actually get to know us. I’m not saying that you should care about what other people think, but I do believe that we ought to think about what we want to say about ourselves through sensory experiences. What does my dress communicate about me? How about my scent? What about shaving or being scruffy? It is not important to who I AM, but these things do interact with other people’s sensory memory.

IN DEALING WITH OTHERS: On a practical level, keep in mind that what you see with people is not necessarily what you get. We are complex human beings, far more complicated than a rash judgment can accommodate. Trayvon Martin was more than a black man in a hoodie, and reducing him to that does injustice to the complexity of life. Conversely, George Zimmerman is more complicated than the man many are portraying him to be. Life is not so simple.

The country is fighting racism that goes a long way back. Things probably won’t change until Jesus comes back. But we can all do our part to make it a better place.

Don’t settle for cookie-cutter answers and snap judgments.

What do you think? Please feel free to engage in debate from either side. I do ask that you keep it civil and polite no matter how heated you may feel….

Related Posts:
~ My Kids Don’t Know They’re Black
~ America: Still Racist After All These Years

Why This Soldier Will Never Shoot

At the Rifle Range
At the Rifle Range

I’m a Soldier in the United States Army Reserve. More specifically, I’m a Chaplain (Captain). What a lot of people don’t know about Chaplains is that we are classified as “non-combatants”. That means I’m not a war-fighter. I would be more like a combat-multiplier. I take care of Soldiers so that Soldiers can take care of the Nation.

But my non-combatant status goes beyond warfare. There is a policy from the Chief of Chaplains (the top dog of Chaplains) instructing Chaplains that, as Chaplains, we are not to be firing weapons even in training situations. that was a real bummer for today.

I was at the weapons range with the Battalion Staff. They were qualifying on the rifle and on the sidearm. At one point, the Detachment Commander came over and told me, “Chaplain, if you want to shoot we have the extra ammo and weapon for you” (he did not know about the Chief of Chaplain’s policy). Man, what an offer! I mean, really, who would have known if I had done it? I’m just a junior Chaplain in one Battalion in the whole Army (which has thousands of Chaplains).

But I didn’t shoot. I kindly thanked him and explained the policy and said that I would love to shoot but won’t do it on duty (there is no prohibition from owning or firing weapons for Chaplains when not on duty).

Let me explain why I didn’t shoot:

1) You never know who is watching. These days it seems like everyone has a smartphone with a camera. I can just see someone pulling out a camera to take a picture of the Chaplain “shooting with the troops.” Then the picture would wind up on Facebook and, before you know it, I’m getting a call from a senior Chaplain asking what on earth I was thinking. Aye, carumba.

Once I was walking through Wal-Mart doing some regular grocery shopping when I saw a church member. She was at the end of her aisle picking up a case of beer to put into her cart. I approached her and said hello in a very friendly way. She became flustered and quickly started to explain to me that she was merely buying the beer for her husband and not for herself. She was so embarrassed to be seen by her pastor. You never know when people will see your public behavior!

**SIDE NOTE**

The Bible does not say that buying or drinking alcohol is a sin – just that drunkenness is a sin. I told this dear lady that it didn’t matter to me if she was buying the beer for her husband or herself. It didn’t change what I thought of her or how I would treat her. Back to the topic….

2) Our behavior has consequences that might not be apparent immediately to us. Imagine if I had decided to shoot and some Soldiers who DID know about the policy prohibiting Chaplains from shooting saw me willfully act against the policy. In an instant I would lose credibility as a Chaplain and leader. The one who is supposed to be a spiritual leader breaks rules whenever it pleases him? And when ministers lose credibility it adversely affects our ability to reach people. You might not see how your behavior influences others, but people see what you do. Live in such a way to build credibility – not destroy it.

3) Even if nobody had EVER seen me break policy (which I haven’t, remember), God would have known. I know, I know – it’s almost trite and cliché to say, “God sees you.” But it’s true.

I don’t say that in an attempt to put guilt or fear into people. It is a positive thing. In the Old Testament when Hagar is going through a real rough spot in life she cries out to God asking for deliverance and says, You are the God who sees me.” He sees and he cares. It is a wonderful thing that God sees us and cares for us. But it is a fearful thing because nothing is hidden from him.

There’s a children’s song I learned a long time ago that says, “Be careful little feet where you go. Oh be careful little feet where you go. For the Father up above is looking down with love so be careful little feet where you go.” At some point God will judge the living and the dead and all of our actions will be accounted for. He knows what we do, it doesn’t matter if we take our secrets to the grave.

So I will never shoot a weapon as a Soldier. I’m okay with that. It’s part of being a member of the organization and following orders. I will never willfully disobey lawful orders. It would damage my credibility and my potential to minister to Soldiers.

As Christians let us remember that our behavior matters. People see us. And, even if they don’t, God does. One day we will be held accountable.

How about you? Ever been “caught” doing something when you thought no one was looking?

Robin Hood Lives: Taking Care Of Others

Did you see this?

It seems that there is a real life Robin Hood roaming the streets of Jackson, Mississippi. He robs from the city to give back to the citizens. Well, he doesn’t say it’s “robbing”, per se. He takes city asphalt and goes around town repairing potholes that the city has been slow to repair. Now the authorities are trying to decide if there has been a criminal act involved.

I’m not going to judge his actions as righteous or villainous, but I do think that his behavior illustrates a biblical point:

People are supposed to be proactive in helping others.

Seems really simple, really. God has called us to be a force of good in the world. Not just hypothetical good. Not just pleasant people to be around. God has called us to proactively help others with whom we come into contact. It seems that most of the western world (even atheists, pagans, and all other religions combined) is familiar with the “Golden Rule.” Even people who do not know the origin of the rule can still recite it (in essence, at any rate).

The writers of the New Testament continued the theme of serving the needs of humanity. James writes that it’s completely worthless to see someone in need and merely say, “Go in peace, be warm and filled,” but never lift a finger to help meet their needs. John’s first letter makes a similar point that love requires more than words – love must be backed by action.

It is much too easy to tell people that we care about them without any amount of follow-through. Sometimes our culture seems to promote this. We ask each other how things are going without any real concern for the answer to come. What would we do if people answered, “I’m really struggling today because I’m dealing with….” Would we step up and see how we could bring assistance? Or would we feel awkward and uncomfortable with the idea that the other has broached conversational etiquette by demanding that we care? It is a trap that many of us – even the best intentioned – fall into from time to time. So this isn’t about saying, “Shame on us!” It’s really about saying, “See how far we’ve come from existing in communities of people who stick up for each other, care for each other, and seek the physical well-being and wholeness of our brother and sister.”

So here’s a challenge: the next time you ask someone how they are doing pause and REALLY listen to the answer. If they don’t want to become vulnerable that’s okay – don’t push it. But if people actually do open up to you and you see the needs of others don’t feel awkward. Ask yourself how you can be a resource to bring relief to a troubled person.

So what about our modern day Robin Hood? Who knows. He might be prosecuted. He might be given a warning not to do it again. Whatever the outcome of his particular case I commend people who step up, take initiative, and try to solve problems rather than merely bemoan the troubles.

Step up. Be a problem solver. Show your love and care for humanity by working to make things better. You’ll never know how you might bless someone else.

 

How about you? Have you been the recipient of a Robin Hood or a caring person? Care to share about it?

Why You Need to Leave the President Alone

seal

I saw an interesting “news” article today. President Obama likes broccoli. I knew there was something up with that guy. I mean, who admits that his favorite food is broccoli?!? Icecream, sure. Lasagna, I can go with that. Nachos Supreme, definitely. But broccoli? C’mon!

Actually, like many of you, I don’t consider this to be newsworthy.   Not.at.all.   But there it was on my homepage – daring me to click the link and find out why there is any hoopla about the president and his veggies. It seems that there’s a little waffling when it comes to his food choices (I’m killing myself here – I hope you appreciate puns as much as I do). The president has mentioned how great pizza night is in the West Wing. Now he’s trying to push broccoli just because he’s at a healthy eating event? How DARE he (how many exclamation points and question marks do I need to adequately express outrage in print?)?!?!?

Hang with me here…I’m stretching…but nope, still not news worthy. And yet…sigh…it’s on the news, all over Twitter, and who knows where else. Which brings me to today’s point: it’s time to leave the President alone.

Obviously I’m gearing this towards anti-Obama-ites (is that a thing?). But bear with me. I’m writing as a registered Republican who really wanted Mike Huckabee to be POTUS. I’m not what you would call an Obama supporter. I disagree with some of his major points of view.

But here’s the thing – Im sick and tired of the vitriol being spewed from those who oppose him. Republicans, Tea Party Hooligans, Independents, Right Wing Democrats, whoever…. The man gets a lot of hate pushed his way from radio, television, Twitter, Facebook, and every corner where you might find an angry conservative.

Stop it.

Stop sharing the memes denigrating him, his ethnicity, his policies, and everything else. It’s not Christian. There, I said it. It isn’t godly to keep the insults and put-downs going around.

The Bible tells us that we are to be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor or to governors. No, I’m not calling the President an emperor, so stop with the accusations of empire and dictatorship. The principle from the Bible is that Christians are good people who submit to authorities over us and treat people with honor and respect. That even applies to national leaders that we may dislike or disagree with.

I’m not asking to agree with his policies. I don’t. Our national government has given us a proper outlet for voicing opposition through the ballot box, petitions, and other lawful means to let our dissent be heard. Personal attacks are not part of God’s agenda for healthy Christian behavior.

So please, no more anti-Obama memes. No more name-calling. No more hateful ranting. If you consider yourself to be a person of faith it is time to knock it off. And don’t worry – the next time there is a conservative person in office I’ll be telling the Left Wing folks the same thing.

What do you think? Have you seen anti-government sentiment go too far? Where do you think Christians should draw the line?

That Voodoo that You Do: Getting Control of Your World

I had an interesting conversation today. Actually, it was a ministry first. Someone asked me if it was okay for Christians to engage in Voodoo if it was for good results. It was an ethics question: say a child is sick and medical avenues courses have been exhausted but a local voodoo practitioner claims he can heal the child. Can the Christian employ voodoo for the sake of healing (and thus doing good)?

I was taken aback by the questions because I simply assumed (naively?) that the answer to such a question was a no-brainer. Apparently it isn’t and still needs to be addressed in some areas, so here’s why I think the Christian should not use voodoo, magic, or any other type of art even for the sake of performing good.

First, the Bible flat out tells us to avoid pagan practices like sorcery, divination, etc. This isn’t even one of those passages that is open to the “context” debate, meant for one time and place but not meant for all time and all people. No – this seems to be one of those verses that God intended to hold for eternity.

Second, using sorcery and voodoo is an attempt to manipulate the world through supernatural means. It removes God from the driver’s seat and tries to force our will upon people, life, and circumstances. The Bible is clear that God is God and we are not. It is not our place to try to manipulate the supernatural for our own desires. It demonstrates an inability to trust God and yield to him. It says, “I’m in charge and this is what I want so I’m gonna do whatever it takes to make it happen.” Such an attitude is not the attitude of a believer.

Two examples come to mind. The first is Jesus. He knew the course that was set before him. He knew his path led to death. And in normal human fashion he was looking for a way out. He repeatedly prayed, asking God to change the path and find a different way so that he didn’t have to go to death. But his ultimate conclusion was this: Not my will but yours be done. It didn’t matter what Jesus wanted because his only aim was that the will of the Father was accomplished.

The second example is Paul. Paul had something he referred to as his “thorn in the flesh.” We’re not quite sure what that thorn was but people who are smarter than I am speculate that it could have been some sort of vision or eye problem (he references having to write in large letters in one of his letters). Paul tells that he repeatedly asked God to remove this problem from his life. God’s ultimate answer was, “No.” Actually – it wasn’t just no. It was, “You don’t need to worry about it because my grace is sufficient for you.”

If we take the object of our faith (Jesus) and the premier preacher of the faith (Paul) as examples, we should be content to pursue every natural means possible to alter health and wellness. We simultaneously pursue prayer until our knees ache and our hearts are ready to burst. But in the end it is God’s call, not ours. We should not attempt to circumvent God and wrest control into our own hands, and that’s all that voodoo and witchcraft do.

Third, the philosophical argument put to me today was essentially that “the ends justify the means.” I do not believe that to be a viable philosophy. While some ends are worthy, there are some means that are simply wrong – no question about it. This philosophy has been the excuse for many atrocities against people. It doesn’t matter who we hurt as long as we’re moving towards the desired goal. Bogus. People matter, and we cannot walk over people simply to achieve positive results. Now move that principle into this blog’s question. If the ends do NOT justify the means then, even if we have good intentions, we cannot act contrary to God – even if we believe we’re doing good.

In the end it comes down to faith that God is God and sees what we can’t. Are we willing to yield to him and to his will? Will we surrender control of our own lives or are we willing to do whatever it takes to force our own results?

What do you think? Do the ends justify the means? Where do we stop in our pursuit of “good”?

Revolutionary Faith: Why the American War for Independence was Unbiblical

Image courtesy of Michael Elliott at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Michael Elliott at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let me begin this post the same way I begin any conversation I have where I talk about a Christian response to Independence Day and the American Revolution:

I am a Chaplain (Captain) in the United Stated Army Reserve. My two younger brothers are both Active Duty U.S. Army. My father was in the Army. My grandfather was Active Duty Navy, was enlisted and sunk at Midway, finished seminary and went BACK into the Navy as a Chaplain. I have several uncles and cousins that have been part of the military. Clearly, then, I support the military and believe that a military, like a police force, is a necessary part of society. I do believe in Just War Theory. I don’t speak for the Army or for the government, but I want you to get where I’m coming from.

Now – to the point of the post: I believe that the American War for Independence was unbiblical and should not have taken place from a Christian point of view. No, I’m not crazy. I’m not some left-wing nut. I’m actually fairly conservative and (totally honesty here) am a registered Republican. But I whole-heartedly believe that the Bible is supposed to be our guide for what we believe and how we behave, and I believe that the New Testament would tell us that The Revolutionary War was wrong.

Looking at the New Testament book of 1 Peter will explain where I’m coming from:

1 Peter 2:11-17 ~ 11 Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you.12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.

First, Peter calls us strangers and temporary residents. Some Bible versions use the word “aliens” to describe his audience. No, not the little green men, but people who are foreigners. His primary audience were Jews of the Dispersion. They had been scattered from their homeland and lived abroad in “Gentile” territories. They were literally foreigners. He calls them to live exemplary lives among the non-believers so that even the non-believers will end up giving glory to God.

While we might be naturally born citizens in America but we find ourselves in a country that is more and more turning its back on the ideals and belief systems of Judeo-Christianity. We are fast becoming the minority. We need to remember that, no matter where our home or citizenship lie, our ultimate home is heaven. We too often forget our heavenly citizenship and cling to our earthly citizenship.

There’s a band called Building 429 with a song that says:

All I know is I’m not home yet. This is not where I belong
Take this world but give me Jesus. This is not where I belong.

That’s the attitude early Christians had. The longer we stay here the more we forget that we don’t belong here on earth – we’re passing through.

Second, Peter flat out says that Christians are to obey human institutions from the Emperor on down to local governors. That pretty much says it all right there. Extend Peter’s principle through history and imagine that he is writing to Colonials, separated from their homeland in Britain. “Submit to every human institution because of the Lord, whether to the King as the supreme authority or to local magistrates….” Boom! End of revolution.

The Christian principle and ideal in the Bible is one of submission and appropriate behavior. There is no exception clause for open rebellion. Rebellion is contrary to the Spirit of God.

I will admit that changing our understanding does not change history. We are where we are. What I would like to see changed is the American predisposition to believe that we are righteously called to be God’s people in this land. We are not.

Our nation was not founded on God. Our nation was founded on the Constitution of the United States of America (which, yes, does have some Christian principles in it). Ancient Israel, with its covenant and Torah, was founded on God (Yahweh). America – not so much. Here our country singers sing that “We’ll put a boot up your @$$” and claim that it’s “The American Way.” Shame on us for confusing America with Christianity.

It’s time to accept that Yahweh is the God of all nations, not just America. So please, Christians, stop chanting: “USA! USA! USA!” as though we have special divine favor. Please stop asking God to specially bless our country as though we are his special nation and are better than other nations. Stop reveling in rebellion and mourn the fact that so many Christians are caught up in the national cult of patriotism and worship at the throne of Uncle Sam when we ought to be putting our emphasis on our citizenship in heaven and worshipping at the throne of the Almighty.

So, it’s the 4th of July. The day when Americans tossed the Bible aside and said, “It’s more important to us to have freedom from the economic constraints of England than it is to follow the biblical model of submitting.

Because that’s what Jesus would have done. He would have fought tooth and nail for his freedom and liberty. He would have demolished the opponent and then celebrated every year.

Oh, wait. He didn’t, did he? He submitted – even unto death.

May God forgive our arrogance and disobedience….

**Note – I fully expect 90% of Americans to disagree with me. That’s okay. If you’d like to participate in civil conversation I really do welcome it.

Related Post:
~ Patriotism Vs. Faith
~ The Rebellious American Spirit

Patriotism Vs. Faith

Image courtesy of Michael Elliott at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Michael Elliott at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m a patriot. I have taken an oath to protect the United States from enemies both foreign and domestic. I’m a Chaplain. I’ve served as an officer in the United States Army Reserve and now on Active Duty in the Navy. I work with Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and their Families. I’ve performed weddings for service members. I’ve performed funerals for service members. I conduct worship services, preach, and give the Eucharist to Soldiers.

Even though I serve in uniform, I have some funny ideas about God and country. Let me tell you three things I believe are important for Christians to know this 4th of July.

First: I believe that there must be a distinction between patriotism and faith. I believe that there are too many Christians who feel that there is a connection between God and country. Years ago I heard a song whose refrain said:

I believe in God and country – in the good ol’ USA
I believe in God and country – God and country all the way!

I heard it in a church worship service. I take issue with that. Who are supposed to be exalting God, not the nation. When I was a civilian pastor I recognized patriotic holidays and events on Sunday mornings. I’ve even done it in uniform. But when we do so our patriotic element is at the very beginning of the morning and not part of the worship service proper. Once we launch into worship the focus is on God, not the nation.

I caused quite a brouhaha some years back for some patriotic holiday when I told the worship leader that I didn’t want us to be singing any patriotic songs during the service. I had planned a tribute video to service members that we would play before the service but didn’t want anything in worship to be nation-focused. He became quite agitated and told me:

By you telling me we are in a way not allowed to sing patriotic songs on Sunday, following Veteran’s Day is offensive to me. I feel we need to sing ‘God Bless America’ following the offering and pay tribute to our great nation and those that served in our military.”

He was offended because I wanted to focus on Jesus and didn’t want to “pay tribute” to “our great nation.” I found it ironic that he wanted to pay tribute to America right after we took the offering. Jesus saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” kept going through my head. Too many churches have lost the distinction between faith and patriotism and blend the two into some weird national cult.

Let me remind you that I am a Chaplain United Stated Armed Forces. I believe in honoring and doing right by our Service Members. But as a Christian I know that my patriotism is not my faith. Should the day ever come when I’m forced to decide between God and country it should be no choice – God wins every time.

Second: America in the 21st Century is not Israel of the Old Testament. It is bad theology and biblical interpretation when we take revelation God gave to Israel and appropriate it to our own society.

Case in point: one of American Christians’ favorite verses to quote is 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 ~

If I close the sky so there is no rain, or if I command the grasshopper to consume the land, or if I send pestilence on My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.

Evangelicals CLAIM that verse, baby! We use it to call America back to prayer. But the thing is – the verse is not about us. It clearly says “My People who are called by My name.” That was Israel, the theocratic nation that received the promised land from God. Land and blessing were part of the original covenant between God and the people. They lost the land after they turned their backs on God. The people were conquered and dispersed to Babylon and other areas.

American is not the land of promise. We are not God’s “chosen people.” There is no promise of restoration of the land if we turn back to God. There is a general principle present about the need to seek God and turn away from evil and pursue righteousness, but the promise in the Old Testament is not our promise.

America will never fulfill that passage of the Bible because it’s not for us. We have never been a theocratic nation. We are a nation founded upon biblical principles, but we are not a Christian nation.

Third: Overemphasizing patriotism and national pride undermines the principle that God is the God of ALL nations. The God of American Christians is the God of French Christians and the God of Russian Christians and the God of Pakistani Christians and…you get the idea. The Bible says that the old distinctions of nationality and ethnic background are null and void in Jesus. We are part of something BIGGER that God is doing WORLDWIDE!

usa-1439915_1920Thumping our chests and proclaiming: “USA, USA, USA!” ignores that our God is the same around the world. It places too great an emphasis on our affiliation with the country and ignores our spiritual connection to the global Church.

Finally: I’m sick and tired of Christians who proclaim: “I’m proud to be an American!” Really? What did you do to achieve it? I didn’t do anything. I happened to be born here, so my citizenship was automatic. There’s nothing to be proud of when you didn’t do anything to get it. I’m proud that I was able to graduate from school. I am proud when my children behave as shining examples out in public (I do try to teach them that). But those are things I work towards. I was fortunate enough to be born in San Diego County. I am THANKFUL that I am a citizen in a nation that allows me to worship God as I please. But proud? Not really. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate our terminology.

When it’s all said and done I will celebrate the 4th of July. We will remember the freedoms that we have and the price that was paid so that we might enjoy those freedoms. But keep it in perspective. Our national home is not our faith. America is not any more special than any other nation on earth. It’s not about “God Bless the USA.” It’s about, “God, let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Make sure your priorities are right.

God doesn’t want to play second fiddle to the nation – any nation.

Related Posts:
~ Revolutionary Faith

Confessions from a Pastor: The Real Me

You know those little 4×6 cards the city sends you to remind you to pay your water bill? It’s a pretty good idea not to set it aside “intending” to take care of it and then forget about it. Then one day you come home with three tired and hungry children and, when you go to begin lunch prep, realize that you have no running water coming into your home. Then you can’t use the bathroom or wash your hands either. And the kids are still tired and hungry and becoming more cranky by the millisecond.

Yup – that was me. My wife handed me the card some time ago and I said I would take care of it. Epic fail. Called the city and paid the bill and the water was back on a couple hours later. In an attempt at solidarity with the world around me (or maybe merely an attempt to feel better about myself?) I asked on social media what other absent-minded things people had done or had not done. I got some interesting feedback.

One mom said: “I put the milk away in the cabinet under the sink”

A teacher remembered: “I took my students to Disneyland for a band trip and got to the gate to pick up our tickets and realized I had left the check sitting on my desk.”

Someone else told me: “I requested drive up/pick up for my groceries and then drove home without them.

Finally one person wrote: “I forgot to put the car in park…rushed into the house…the car rushed into the garage door!”

So it seems I’m not the only one that does bone-headed, absent-minded things from time to time. I’m glad I’m in good company. Here’s the reason I’m telling you this: after the event happened I was embarrassed. I’ve never had my water shut off before for failure to pay the bill. The money was in the bank – I simply forgot. Still, I felt this big (imagine me holding my fingers close together, because I didn’t feel very big at all).

Because I was embarrassed (and spent a good amount of time apologizing to my wife for dropping the ball) I considered whether or not I was going to tell people about my goof or if I was going to conceal it instead. Since I’m writing this post I think it’s clear which route I decided to take.

But it really got me thinking: How much do/should we share with others and how much do/should we keep locked away from all but a few? Because I was embarrassed I naturally wanted to conceal my flub. But I live in a rural Midwest community. It’s not too far a stretch of imagination to think of someone at the desk at city hall recognizing my name and mentioning to someone else: “Hey, did you hear that the pastor at Central Community Church didn’t pay his bill and got his water shut off?” The way this town talks I really can see that happening (if you live here with me, let’s agree to help change the atmosphere of gossip and slander, ok?!?). I figured it’s always better to get out in front of stuff like this. It wasn’t illegal or immoral, just stupid, so I can swallow my pride and tell on myself.

But then it REALLY got me thinking about what the Bible says in regards to situations like this. The Bible tells us to carry each other’s burdens. The Apostle Paul also says that we are to treat each other with humility, and patience, accepting one another in love.

The people who are part of my spiritual family are supposed to help me carry the things that weigh me down. I’m also supposed to be able to count on this family to treat me with humility, patience, and acceptance. That means I can be free to be me and you can be free to be you.

In our contemporary, social media crazy world, we have a false sense of “knowing” and of “being known.” I might have 900 friends on Facebook but how many REALLY know me? They only see the pieces of me that I allow them to see.

Going through seminary I heard professors and students wrestle with the idea of how self-revealing a pastor SHOULD be versus how much he (or she, I’m pro-female ordination – but that’s a post for another day) should play it close to the vest. I guess it comes down to personal choice and conscience. Some pastors only post things that are very professional. Some post any ol’ thing that pops into their heads. I’ve struggled with the idea of how I come across through what I say, do, tweet, post, whatever.

I always come back to those passages. Christian community is supposed to be a place where we share life together. Where we laugh together. Where we cry together. Where we are real together. It’s supposed to be different from the world around us. All around us people look out for #1. We do things to get a leg up on the competition. We fight to beat everyone else down. That’s not the church that Jesus instituted.

His church is a place for care. His church is a place where we put others first. His church is a place where we can hear about the bone-headed things others do and, instead of criticizing and condemning, we say, “Yup, I’ve done stuff like that, too! God loves us anyway.” So I’ve decided that I’m going to share my life with people, warts and all. I’m not going to hide the imperfections. I’m not perfect. I struggle with my humanity just like everyone else (I even got a ticket last year). And Jesus loves me anyway. I do realize that there are people out there who will criticize, judge, and condemn those of us who reveal our flaws. Some people try to use our weaknesses as ammunition against us. But God doesn’t care. The Apostle Paul learned that being weak meant leaning on the strength of Jesus. He’ll provide support when we can’t carry on under our own power.

**Please note that God still expects us to be moving forward, to be growing in our spiritual maturity and attempting to be more like Christ every day (it’s called sanctification).**

But still, I think you know what I mean…

How about you? What bone-headed, absent-minded things have you done? No matter what – Jesus still loves you. And I’m gonna do my best to embrace you, help you carry your load, and treat you with humility, patience, and acceptance – just as I hope you will with me.