When Faith and the U.S. Military Collide

Let me begin by pointing out (yet again) that I speak for myself. These are my opinions soldier-708711_1280and reflections. I do not speak for the military or the government. Okay, ready?

This week I read an article saying that Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is once again up in arms about a Christian in the military expressing his faith. This time his furor is directed against an Army Colonel who shared a story about his grandfather’s faith and encouraged Service Members to work on spiritual fitness through prayer. Weinstein’s statement says:

Apparently, Colonel Thomas Hundley can’t figure out whether he’s an active duty senior Army officer or an evangelical Christian missionary? Further, DoD can’t seem to, likewise, decipher whether they are paying him to be one or the other. Where the hell is the adult supervision for senior, active duty officer, Constitutional compliance at DoD?….

Colonel Hundley has absolutely no business or authority under American law to be conflating his Army officer rank, title and position with his professed evangelical Christian faith.

Let’s break down what’s really happening, okay?

1. The military recognizes that spiritual fitness is an important component in overall health. The Army defines spirituality:

Spirituality, as defined by Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, is strengthening a set of beliefs, principles or values that sustain a person beyond family, institutional, and societal sources of strength.

Did you see the part in there that defines spirituality as Christian faith? No? Because it isn’t there. What we’re talking about is the general concept that healthy and fit Service Members have a healthy spirituality WHATEVER THEIR PARTICULAR EXPRESSION LOOKS LIKE.

For the Colonel, his spirituality takes the shape of Christianity.

2. The Colonel did not tell people that his background needed to be everyone’s background. He related a story about his grandfather to share about his own journey, but there was no proselytizing – he wasn’t trying to convert anyone. Sharing personal stories isn’t the same thing as actively trying to convert others.

And finally,

3. Calling people to prayer is really the least offensive way of talking about spiritual growth. All the major religions have a form of prayer and/or meditation. I can encourage Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, Atheists, EVERYONE to engage in spiritual behavior through prayer/meditation. It’s not a behavior unique to Christianity.

Let me give you some personal examples from my own ministry as a military chaplain. My job as a chaplain is NOT to walk around finding people to whack on the head with my Bible and yell, “YOU NEED JESUS!” No, my job is to see to the free exercise of religion for ALL of the Service Members I come across.

Not too long ago I was asked about facilitating a need for Islamic prayer. Easy day! I kid-1077793_1920acquired a Muslim prayer rug for the Religious Ministry Team (RMT) and gave the Service Member space for prayer. I have also given out copies of the Koran, the Book of Morman, Jewish prayer books, and yes, even Bibles, when Service Members let me know they have a need.

So no, the Chaplain Corps is not about making converts. Christians in the military are not hell-bent on making converts. Yes, it is perfectly acceptable for senior leadership to suggest Service Members engage in some form of prayer/meditation as a means to strengthen their spirituality.

On a final note, it is possible for us to hold to our own beliefs while still supporting the rights of others to have their beliefs. This is where we get to the biblical behavior lesson for the day. As Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are also called to treat people the way we wish to be treated. We don’t have to argue the rightness/wrongness of faith. We can be faithful to our own spirituality and still respect the faith and religions of those who disagree with us.

As the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

 

The Big 10: No Other Gods

It’s my joy once again to lead an online devotional Bible study. This time we’re going to spend some time looking at the Big 10 – God’s foundational commandments to His people.

footballLegendary football coach Vince Lombardi had a habit every season; even if his players had been on the team for years, where he would get his players together, hold up a football, and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

When we have the fundamentals in place, then we have a solid foundation for playing a strong game. That is what the 10 Commandments are for us. They are foundational for who we are and how we are to behave.

People get weird when we talk about laws and commandments, though. We don’t want to be told what to do. And sometimes laws can be funny things. There are some stupid laws on the books. These are some I found:

– It is illegal to impersonate a person of the clergy.
– Bear wrestling matches are prohibited.
– It is prohibited to sell peanuts in the county after sundown on Wednesdays.
– No member of the clergy is allowed to tell jokes or humorous stories from the pulpit during religious services.
– It is forbidden to fish while sitting on a giraffe’s neck.

Usually laws exist because something happened. WHO WAS SITTING ON A GIRAFFE’S NECK?!? We normally don’t put laws on the books to hurt people – we think they are going to help. Some poor giraffe got hurt because a doofus tried to fish from way up there.

This is the point of the 10 Commandments. It’s not about God trying to twist our arms into behaving appropriately. It’s about God trying to restore things back to the way they were created to be. God’s trying to teach us what a perfect world looks like.

And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

1. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

It all begins here – you will have no other gods beside me. This one commandment provides the framework for all of the commandments. Israel had just come out of Egypt with their many gods. Have you ever hung around someone so much that you start to pick up on their mannerisms and expressions? It’s really easy to see this between parents and their kids. familyOne day the kid realizes, “Oh, gosh! I’ve turned into my mother!” Or, if it’s really bad, your wife will tell you, “You sound just like your dad.” Without realizing it, we begin to conform to the people we spend a lot of time around. As Proverbs 27:17 says,

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

The people you are around will influence and shape who you are. If you hang out with dull people you will become dull yourself. If you want to be sharp, you need to surround yourself with sharp people. Israel had allowed the foreign culture and foreign gods to have too much influence, and God begins his commandments by setting things straight.

Yahweh is not one among many – He is to be the ONLY one

This command is renewed in the New Testament in Acts 4:12 ~

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

Even though this world frowns on religious exclusivity, we cannot escape it. The Bible is clear about it. There is no other way. All roads do NOT lead to God.

The question to us, then, is, “Who is influencing us and rubbing off against us?” What threatens God’s place as #1 in our lives?

There is only one God.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me” (Isaiah 43:10).

Questions for Reflection
– What’s your number one commandment?
– What is the overarching principle that drives your life?
– Is God first? Or is he merely one among many?

Target Wants to Sissify Your Boys (but so does Jesus)!

Target made a BUNCH of people angry last week when removing gender-based labels in some of its departments. TargetAnd when I say a bunch of people I’m referring to people who would most likely self-identify as Conservative American Christians.

Social media lit up with many people blasting Target and accusing them of things like trying to subvert moral and decent society. Others accused Target of caving to the LGBTQ agenda.

Of course there is always the stand-by “sissification” argument. Any time the liberals get their way they end up contributing to the sissification of good, decent, conservative way of life.

  • You’re taking away our guns – sissification.
  • You’re making worship music in church about feelings and emotions – sissifcation.
  • You’re removing gender labels from store signage in some departments – sissification.

But that’s not what Target is doing. Target is recognizing that there is a lot of social construction in how we view gender in society. What, exactly, are boys toys? Are girls not allowed to enjoy them? On the flip side, are boys not allowed to like something labeled as a girl product? I can’t help that my 5 year old son enjoys watching Dora the Explorer thwart Swiper the Fox.

SwiperAre all Dora products off-limits to him?

Target is simply saying that the social constructs of what is manly or girlie are not going to play a factor in how they merchandise. Bravo to them. And here’s the funny thing – Target isn’t the first one to take such an approach to gender constructs.

I read somewhere once that now there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, there is no male or female. We are all now one in Christ Jesus.

Oh, yeah – IT’S IN THE BIBLE! (see Galatians 3:28)

It’s not that God is saying there aren’t differences among people. He’s saying that the social constructs that divide people do not play any part in how we relate to being part of the kingdom of God. Perhaps it’s time for red-blooded Americans to throttle back a little bit on the gender stuff. I’m not saying you have to stop loving NASCAR and start attending tea parties in the rose garden (see what I did there with gender stereotypes?).

I’m saying that it’s not a big deal for Target to change how they label their stores.

I’m saying it’s not a big deal for worship music to be emotional and poetic.

I’m saying that our idea of what is for boys and what is for girls comes more from society than we’d care to realize. We have done it – not God. If Paul can tell us that the social constructs that divide humanity play no part in God’s kingdom, then the idea that a store can embrace that philosophy seems…

well…

right on target.

 

 

Dear Christian, Can You Be More Bigoted Please?

Look up any single word in a dozen dictionaries and you may find a dozen varying definitions. IntoleranceThe other day I saw someone on social media calling Christians bigots.

It made me want to look up the word to see the variations. While you will find definitions that fit the way liberals use the term against Christians, dictionary.com had this:

big-ot [big-uh t]

noun

1. a person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.

In some sense, then, I believe that Christians SHOULD be bigoted.

Yes, we need to be utterly intolerant to a different creed, belief, or opinion. In Acts 4:12 we see the Apostle Peter preaching:

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Peter is merely reflecting the words of Jesus in John 3:18:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

There is no room for allowing other creeds to coexist along side of the Christian creed. Jesus is not A way to God.

Jesus is THE way to God.

So yes, call me a bigot. I won’t waver in my belief that the Christian way is right and any other way is wrong.

Where Christians and non-Christians get confused, though, is understanding that we can treat people well in spite of religious differences. I can believe that my way is the only way and still treat people decently. A difference of beliefs does not necessitate anger and animosity towards those who differ.

Liberals tend to see this as a cop out. I’ve been told if Christians really treated people decently we’d allow people to believe what they want to believe (ironically, they are refusing to allow me to believe what I want to believe).

Conservatives tend to see this as a sell-out.Sellout If we hold firm to our beliefs then we will separate from the world around us and shun evil. This is why so many Christians are up in arms about selling wedding supplies to gay couples. This is why Christian doctors are refusing to treat infants of gay couples.

I will be blunt: THIS IS NOT TREATING PEOPLE WELL!

We can disagree theologically and still be decent human beings. So I will do my best to treat people well.

But don’t ask me to cave on my belief about salvation just because you feel excluded. 🙂

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

Religion + Politics = Politics

Ed Stetzer once said something along the lines of: “When you mix religion and politics you get politics.”

While I am a big believer in Christians engaging in government through running for office and exercising our right to vote, I am an even BIGGER believer in keeping government OUT of faith.

I am a patriot, and proudly put on my uniform as a Chaplain in U.S. Armed Forces. As a pastor, however, I have a real hard time when politics and patriotism invade the worship service. Worship services should be just that – worship. When we allow patriotic elements and politics to enter the worship service we are saying, “Move over, God, because we want to address our political agenda alongside you.”

This is why I cringed when I heard that Liberty University allowed Ted Cruz to make a political speech and announce his run for the presidency at their weekly convocation.

Here’s the thing – I don’t care if Liberty wants to allow Mr. Cruz space on campus to make his announcement. That’s not my issue. My issue is the venue in which the announcement took place. Convocation is mandatory for students.

The University president, Jerry Falwell Jr., tried to explain away the dilemma we see established by a required worship service being turned into a political rally.

Convocation is not a worship service. Convocation is Liberty’s educational forum for students to hear from speakers with a wide diversity of viewpoints from all walks of life—entertainment, business, politics, ministry, and more—many of whom are globally respected as experts in their areas.

Sounds good, yes? Except I don’t think it’s accurate.

Liberty’s website (as of last night) looks like this:

Liberty Screenshot

Notice the left-hand side of the screen where they list “Worship Services” and the first thing mentioned is Convocation. Now flash back:

President Falwell:

“Convocation is not a worship service.”

Website:

Worship Services: Convocation

President:

“Convocation is not a worship service.”

So which one are we supposed to believe? Which one is inaccurate (or worse, intentionally deceitful)?

Talking to a previous undergrad student from Liberty, I was told: “Convocation was a worship service when I was there. There were worship songs, prayer, and then the speaker. If that’s not a worship service, what is?”

Mixing faith and politics is always messy. Worship needs to be about God – not politics. Don’t misunderstand me – I think there IS an appropriate time for Christians to engage in politics. Worship services is NOT the time.

This is because we cannot worship anything beside God. He alone is supposed to be the sole object of our worship. And, in the end, our ultimate loyalty lies with God and NOT with any political party or country. We are Christians who happen to be citizens of America (or wherever you are). We cannot blend them into one odd “Americhristian” category.

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

God Doesn’t Favor Israel Any More

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it himself:

I know that my speech has been the subject of much controversy.

That may be a contender for understatement of the year. I’ve seen conservatives using Bibi’s speech to blast President Obama (“This is what a real leader sounds like,” “It’s about time a strong leader spoke in Congress,” and on and on). I’ve seen liberals belittling Israel and conservatives as using this opportunity to undermine the President.

I don’t pretend to be an expert in political science or foreign affairs. That’s not my primary concern. Like many people, though, I am concerned about a nuclear Iran. As Netanyahu notes:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated — he tweets. You know, in Iran, there isn’t exactly free Internet. But he tweets in English that Israel must be destroyed.

I am against the slaughter of people groups. I am also pro-democracy. For those reasons I tend to be pro-Israel. Israel But political science and foreign affairs is not my primary concern nor is it the focus of this blog. The focus on The Bible Blotter is the Bible and letting the Bible influence our behavior.

That being said, I think it’s time American Christians separate our support of Israel from our idea that Israel is God’s special nation. We must realize that the Israel of God’s Old Testament promises is not the geo-political entity we call Israel today. We who believe in the one true God have been “grafted in the vine” and are now part of God’s chosen people. Blood line does not matter – faith matters.

As Paul says in Galatians 3:28-29 ~

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

I understand this is not a popular opinion. I know many Americans consider supporting Israel to be a God-honoring biblical mandate. In the grand scheme of things, though, the nation of Israel is simply one of the nations of the world.

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 9:6-8 ~

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

Being born Jewish doesn’t make you a child of Abraham any more. We are of Abraham through faith. The citizens of Israel need to respond to the Gospel of Jesus just as the citizens of any nation must.

God is not the God of America. God is not the God of Israel. God is the God of ALL nations. Christians in America and Israel are on the same spiritual footing as Christians in China, Thailand, Russia, Cuba, France, and every other nation on earth.

Jesus is the great equalizer. It is our faith that binds us together – not our bloodlines. This is a hard concept for us to embrace. Jesus took it to a radical degree. Once when his family came looking for him to try to “manage” him, the crowd told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside seeking you.” Jesus’s response?


Who is my mother, or my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother. (Mark 3:32-35)

In a society where family is everything FamilyJesus sets a new standard. This is the standard that is upheld in the rest of the New Testament. God’s people are not so by birth into the Jewish nation.

We are God’s people by our spiritual birth into God’s kingdom through our faith.

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I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

The Bible Says, “No Life Hacks!”

Have you ever heard of life hacks? They are simple things that you might never have considered that seek to make life easier. For example:

Hack 2

C’mon, now. This one is pure genius! No more wasted Nutella!

 

 

Here’s another one:Hack

If you’re like me then you’ll accidentally have sucked up plenty of small things while vacuuming the floor: Legos, jewelry, paperclips, you name it. This simple lifehack can help you.

Get the idea?

Shortcuts for making life easier. But sometimes we aren’t meant to take shortcuts in life. Take the ancient Israelites, for example.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle. Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” 

And they moved on from Succoth and encamped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. (Exodus 13:17-22)

 

Here are two things we can learn from this:

1. The fastest way is not always the best way or God’s way.

There was a way Israel COULD have taken but God led them a different way – a longer way: The human tendency is to believe that being forced to go the long way through something means that God is not present or that God is punishing us. But here is an example of God Burger King Lifetaking people the long way around FOR THEIR OWN GOOD! In our personal lives sometimes we feel like we need a shortcut to get where we want to go and we get frustrated when we’re forced to go the long way. Maybe we’re waiting for a job. Maybe we’re waiting for an apology. Whatever the area of life, we like to have it our way. We want the Burger King life.  God isn’t a fast food employee. Sometimes His way is slower than the way we want. Do we have the faith to trust Him when we don’t get the shortcut we want?

2. The slow way may be preparing us for the battles to come.

If the Israelites had seen war too soon they would have turned back to Egypt. There is an interesting concept here, and that is that the human element makes a difference in God’s possibilities: we can go along with His plan or we can go against Him. This is not to deny God’s sovereignty – this is simply saying that we have the ability as free agents to walk away from the good plans God has for us. Even Jesus was limited by human rejection when he went to minister in his hometown. Because of the lack of faith he was only able to do a few healings. Was his power limited? I don’t think so. I think that humanity has the choice to embrace what God is doing or to walk away.

The Israelites left Egypt equipped for future battles, but God was holding it back until they were ready. Our detours and long way around might seem frustrating when we want to get there NOW, but we have to trust that God is using this time to prepare us. Just because you’re being delayed does NOT mean God has abandoned you. Notice that God is present with Israel day and night (cloud and fire). Even today we have his assurance that He is with us. His presence has not departed just because we’re taking the long road.

So here we are. Whatever desert you’re going through, whatever delays you’re facing, know that God is still walking beside you. Perhaps this time is being used for your own good and you simply can’t see it yet. Persevere. Hang in there. One day you’ll get to where God is moving you to go. In the meantime, walk in faith following His lead.

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Christians Were Violent, Too!

Imagine a husband and wife having a fight. The wife, with a legitimate complaint, says, “I can’t believe you did ___________!” The husband has two choices. He can a) address the issue face up to the complaint or b) distract from the current issue by saying, “Yeah, but you did the same kind of thing to me last year!”

The second response is called deflecting. It’s avoiding dealing with the current issue by pointing fingers at the past. This is what is happening in the religiopolitical conversation taking place between Islam and Christianity. While people are bringing up valid concerns about the behavior of global Islam, it is merely deflecting to say, “Yes, but Christians behaved atrociously a thousand years ago in the Crusades.”

Islam vs Christianity

There is an appropriate time and place to address historical Christian behavior (and, for the most part, contemporary Christian leaders have apologized for historical Christian violence). Still, one should not bring up those issues to deflect or diminish the original complaint.

In our world today there is a valid concern about Islamic violence globally against Christians AND non-Christians. (non-violent Muslim-Americans do not negate the violent acts carried out daily by Muslims in other nations).

From a biblical point of view, we are called to pray for those who persecute us. We are called to do good for those who would do us harm. There is an incredible notion that we love even the people who loathe us. In the conversation about Islam we too often lose sight of this ethic. I believe it is possible to love and pray for those who would do us harm while still speaking the truth.

And the truth is, it is not the Church that has people fearing for life and limb. For the last thousand years that role has been taken up by global Islam.

We can drop the angry rhetoric. I don’t think it’s loving or Christ-like. We don’t have to hurl insults at Muslims. Angry rhetoric We ought be keeping ourselves in check and asking, “How can I speak truth about the world while still maintaining a loving outlook towards everyone?”

That’s the Christian way.

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How Christians Should Respond to the Pending Alien Invasion

Alien

On the MSN homepage today the scrolling headline banner had a piece called, “Is there any proof that aliens exist?”

Now, if you didn’t know, I’m a Sci-Fi nut.

I have seen all of the Star Wars and Star Trek movies. At one time in my life I even had a replica of the NCC-1701D. If you don’t know immediately what that is, shame on you…but it looked like this:

NCC 1701D

I also owned the Star Trek trivia board games (TOS & TNG).

I have on DVD the every season of The X-Files.

I’m a nerd. I can embrace it. There are many like me. Needless to say, I was intrigued by the headline I saw on MSN. So I clicked the link and was taken to this video:

I was disappointed. Shame on you, MSN, for your cheap stunt. There was no real news there!

But it got me thinking about aliens and humanity and faith. Could there be alien life “out there”? Sure, why not?

I don’t see it as an issue that conflicts with faith.

The Bible talks about God creating humanity. It never rules out that God could have created other forms of life. The point of the biblical story is for us to know that we have purpose – we are not randomly occurring life forms. The highest being designed and created us to be in relationship with Him and to be in relationship with each other. That’s a pretty cool reason for existing.

One of my favorite Ray Bradbury short stories is called “The Man.” It’s from a collection of stories called “The Illustrated Man.” Seriously, download it now (and read it later).

Anyway, this rocketship lands on an alien world and the Captain expects people to come rushing out. He’s angered when the people just don’t care. You see, the ship landed at an inopportune time. The alien town has been visited by a nameless man who heals the sick, comforts the poor, and fights hypocrisy and corruption.

Personally, I don’t think that there is any intelligent life “out there” (go ahead and insert your jokes about intelligent life on earth)…. But IF there were, God would still be God – the creator of all things, the designer of worlds. Our purpose for existing would not change.

So relax. Have some fun. Enjoy Sci-Fi.

He’s got the whole world in His hands – even the aliens. 🙂

My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:12-13)

The Really Real Truth About What God Is

God?
God?

Recently I’ve found myself in some discussions with atheists. Well, not really discussions. None of them actually wanted to discuss. They wanted to rail against God and people who believe in God. I’ve been called a fool, stupid, and other names not so pleasant.

They called God a faerie tale, a hoax to control the masses, and one person called God our “sky daddy” (that one actually made me laugh).

Then a friend contacted me and said, “In honor of Easter, let’s play a hashtag game called #GodIs and get people to share who and what God is to them.”

So last night we kicked off our GodIs movement. Here are some of the contributions:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5

What is God to you?