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.

Burn, Baby, Burn – Christianity and Suicide

This past weekend Brittany Maynard, a young woman with a terminal illness, ended her life. Her story has caused quite a stir in Christian circles, and discussing life and death is a worthwhile conversation to have.

It’s easy to function in a black and white world. When our options are limited to black and white, right and wrong, the choosing process becomes simplified. It is when we add the many-varied shades and colors of reality that life gets exponentially more difficult. As children we are taught things in black and white because that’s the way a child’s brain operates. If I tried to teach my kids how to use discernment between varied shades I think their heads might explode – or mine would. They’re too young for that right now. We all teach our kids in black and white. Sadly, sometimes we forget to help them move beyond that into the world of grown-up discernment.

When I was a kid I remember learning the black and white of suicide. I was always told that it was one way – suicide is a sin (therefore wrong) and that those who commit suicide are eternally doomed to remain outside the presence of God. In fact, many parts of the worldwide Church still teach people that black and white truth. Too many of us in Christianity have not moved beyond into adult discernment.

As an Evangelical pastor, I believe that the Bible ought to be our primary guide for action, thought, and behavior. But too often we look to man-made traditions to shape our beliefs rather than what God has revealed through the Bible. So the really tricky question about suicide is: What does the Bible actually say about taking your own life?

Surprisingly little.

I only say “surprisingly” because, as strongly as the church preaches against suicide, you would think that the Bible would say quite a bit. Nope. No “Thou shalt not’s” or “You’re gonna be soooorrrry!” about suicide. There are a few stories about suicide, but those stories simply relate the tale – there is no judgment, guilt, or moral derived against suicide.

Judas, the infamous (which, according to the Three Amigos, means MORE than famous) disciple of Jesus, was so filled with sorrow and regret for his behavior that he committed suicide. But one of my favorite stories in the New Testament is actually a suicide prevention story.

The Apostle Paul and his colleague Silas were imprisoned for sharing their beliefs about Jesus. Late at night there was a massive earthquake and the jail cells and prisoners’ chains broke free. The guard who had been sleeping (hey, it was late) woke up, saw the busted cells, and decided that the only way to regain any sense of honor for his family after the prisoners escaped on his watch was to kill himself. As he was about to plunge his sword into his body, Paul calls out, “Hey, don’t do it. We’re all still here!” Paul was able to share about Jesus with this jailer. Even still, there is not any condemnation of the guard’s intent. Just a story of how Paul introduced him to faith in Jesus.

So why do we tell people that those who commit suicide are Hell-bound for eternity? The human logic behind it is this: suicide is murder and, since that grievous sin is the last thing you do before eternity, there is no chance to confess and repent. Thus you are doomed to Hell.

I don’t buy it.

The Bible only says that there is one unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Spirit of God.

That’s it. Everything else is forgivable. The only permanent, unforgivable sin is to credit God’s work to Satan, to accuse the spirit of God of evil. I don’t see that with suicide. Which means that even suicide is a forgivable sin.

But what about the lack of confession and repentance? It’s a common human misunderstanding of how grace and divine forgiveness works. It’s not a quid pro quo kind of deal. We don’t offer one confession for one act of forgiveness. Grace is freely given to us. When we become believers in Jesus and surrender to God then his grace covers us. We ought to be sorrowful for sin in our lives, but I do not think that individual acts of sin will prevent us from an eternity in his presence. Otherwise everyone who dies unexpectedly without confessing and repenting is gonna be spending a long, hot eternity away from God.

My theology says that God is bigger than that. My theology says that God’s grace covers us and that God understands that we are still broken people trying to do our best to live righteous lives in a broken world. But I don’t have to worry about dying without being able to confess and repent. His grace covers us.

Thus I believe an honest understanding of the Bible admits that people can have “committed” sins and still be covered by grace. I believe that a Christian who commits suicide will still spend eternity with God. Frankly, I believe a lot of people who are in heaven will surprise us (and a lot of people who DON’T make the list will also surprise us)!

But let’s look at the other side of the same coin:

Though suicide is not an unforgivable sin, I do not believe that Christians ought to commit suicide. Suicide tends to be about seeing no other alternative to terminating suffering in this life. Suicide is the human attempt to exercise ultimate sovereignty over life. This is the wrong attitude. God is sovereign, not us. We don’t know what tomorrow brings. Or next week. Or next year. There’s no way to know that your life situation will stay on the setting “SUCK” for your entire life. It could change at any moment.

Perhaps God is trying to use your misery and suffering to refine you – to help you become a better you. Perhaps he’s prepping you through your suffering to minister to and help others. Bottom line – don’t try to take control away from God. Let God be God, even through the junky times where we’d rather just give up.

If you’re reading this and you’ve ever thought, “It would just be easier if I weren’t even here” I’d like you to know that you’re not alone. Those kinds of thoughts are normal things for us to think when we’re suffering. Welcome to normalcy. But let God be God. The tougher the situation, the more we should lean on him and lean on a good, caring spiritual family.

If you’re reading this and you’ve had loved ones take their own lives – know that suicide is not a one-way ticket to Hell. God’s love and grace are bigger than you can imagine.

In the end I don’t know all of the specific reasons for suffering. Some of it is because stupid people do stupid things and those things have consequences. Sometimes suffering is redemptive and makes us better. Sometimes suffering is punitive and we pay the price for our own wrongdoings and behavior. Through it all let God be God. Trust him. Lean on him.

And, in the words of the illustrious Captain Jason Nesmith:

NEVER GIVE UP. NEVER SURRENDER!

** If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts there are some resources available. Check out Emerge and NSPL to start…

America: Still Racist After all These Years

Racism. It’s still there. Sometimes it feels like we pretend it doesn’t exist but it does. It affects the way we look at people. It affects the way we treat people. It affects the way we talk about people. But it’s not something we address openly and honestly until something blows up and then everything is chaos and then all hell breaks loose.

No, I’m not even writing this in response to the Paula Deen debacle, though it certainly seems to fit.

Paula Deen’s situation reminds us that, no matter how far we have come, we are a people that draw lines of distinction based on race and heritage. Sometimes those lines of distinction are good and result in a renewed sense of pride and family background. I applaud people who utilize websites like ancestry.com or 23andme.com in an effort to know and appreciate their genetics and history. Knowing from where we come and from whom we come goes a long way in helping us create a personal sense of identity.

In regards to the words we use to define ethnicity, I do believe and emphatically suggest that we call people what THEY desire to be called, not what we think they should be called. I am Anglo-European. Let’s be totally honest, I’m Scottish on one side and Irish on the other. I’m white. A honkey.  But I’m married to a brown-skinned woman. It doesn’t matter what language was used around me growing up, she deserves to be identified in the way she chooses; Black, African-American, Negro, or even colored (which is how some of my wife’s older relatives still refer to themselves). Anything less is disrespect towards her AS A PERSON. It doesn’t matter where people come from – call them what they desire to be called.

This was part of Paula Deen’s problem. As an older white woman from the south, she probably grew up with some choice descriptors for brown-skinned people. And let’s be honest – it’s hard to break free from the language and images that were around during our formative years. It really takes a lot to move beyond how we were raised.

This is not to excuse something she might have said nearly 30 years ago, but it does help to understand where she is coming from and how she is wired. But this is a great illustration of the problem. Racism exists still. Many people don’t even realize that their behavior is racist – and that’s just wrong. It’s when you hear someone telling a story about someone else and they just “happen” to throw in the description of ethnicity.

“I was help up at knifepoint by this wild-eyed Mexican guy…”
“I was cut off by this black lady…”

We are racist every time we feel a need to describe ethnicity. Does it matter what race the thief was? Does it matter what race the crazy driver was? It adds nothing to the story except for the racist subtext you want to convey to your audience. We are racist every time we alter our behavior because of or around someone of different ethnicity. We are racist, and I don’t mean “we” as in “European-Americans like me.” Humanity is racist – we divide along ethnic lines.

Yet there is supposed to be a kinship that supersedes ethnicity. The bible says that we share a new family through our faith that moves us beyond all titles, descriptions, and subtext. It is no longer white, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever-mix-you-want-to-be…. We shed all of that with one new title: CHRISTIAN.

This new title is supposed to characterize all we say and do. It’s supposed to saturate us and flow out of every pore. It’s supposed to take the old way of thinking about things and people and replace it with God’s way of viewing things and people.

Yep – we’re a racist planet. And we always will be as long as we hold to our ethnic identities over and above our spiritual identities. So, Christian, it’s time to grow. It’s time to change. It’s time to let stop identifying yourself by your race and to start identifying yourself by your faith.

Who are you?

My name is Chris. I’m white Christian.