Jesus Says, “No, America, You Won’t Be Great Again.”

For what it’s worth, I’m not now nor have I ever been anti-American (as even close friends have been accused of behaving). I LOVE my country and and very glad that I live here, serve here (though my opinions do not reflect the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any government agency), and raise my family here. For all our faults (and we can point to quite a few), there are places in the world that are FAR worse off. So I’m not here to bash America. I’m here to talk about Christians who have jumped on the “Make America Great Again” bandwagon.

You see, the expression implies that America WAS great but somehow lost its greatness. It now needs to regain what we once had. So I want to know what it is we’ve lost and what we need to get back. My friend Harry said it very well when he responded:

I believe the more specific definition is “great for who(m)”? In a land of such diversity greatness is defined by any individual group to suit their own needs and desires. It’s a dandy catchphrase but is it also a balance scale. Does “greatness” for some come at a sacrifice to others?

I think that’s a big part of the problem. Going back to greatness for one group doesn’t look so hot for another group. It’s a matter of perspective, depending on which side of history you fall. But my BIGGEST problem comes from Christians who eagerly (sometimes humble-732566_1920overwhelmingly so) desire to be part of the “Make America Great Again” movement. I expect such behavior from non-Christians. But Christians are supposed to approach issues like this from a different perspective. Jesus addressed greatness several times.

He said:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12)

and:

And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35)

I’m not talking about pursuing excellence. If we follow the Apostle’s advice and do everything we do as doing it unto God, we’re going to pursue excellence. But the idea of greatness runs contrary to the idea of humility. Greatness is a comparative quality – it’s being set apart from the norm or average. It’s saying, “I’m more special than ________.”

GreatI fail to grasp how a commitment to Jesus, one who epitomized service to others, allows us a Christians to say, “We desire to be better than everyone else!”

I recognize that it’s impossible to lump everyone who says, “Make America Great Again” into a single group. But my observation is that the slogan, and many who promote it, embrace an “us vs. them” mentality that is at odds with the Gospel of Jesus.

Real humility doesn’t say, “I desire to be great!” Real humility says, “What can I do for you?”

So be patriotic. Pursue excellence in all you do. There’s nothing wrong with that! But be humble. Embrace serving others. Reject the pursuit of greatness as a goal. Let greatness be the result of a life of serving others and seeking to build others up. Remember Jesus’s words I mentioned earlier:

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”

Inappropriate Parents & Kids

1297856847128_ORIGINALThis last week Victoria Beckham posted a picture on Instagram of her kissing her 5 year old daughter on the lips.

And the digital world EXPLODED.

Many criticized her and called her ugly names. Many defended her, posting picture of them kissing their own kids. C’mon, people, is this really what it’s come to? Do we have nothing better to do than debate the parenting style of people we don’t know and will never meet?

Sigh – it seems that distance criticism is what we do best. So let’s talk about the actual issue here – appropriate vs. inappropriate affection between parent and child.

Our society is quickly taking up a position that all sexuality is okay as long as no one is hurt. Not just okay – but encouraged. Media floods our brains with images of same-sex couples kissing at pride events. Celebrities bounce from partner to partner and nobody bats an eye (plus it gives Taylor Swift more song writing material). And I think this oversexualization of society is the root of the problem. We’ve come to the point where many cannot see a kiss between a parent and child without reading sexual content into it. It’s not the parents who disturb me – it’s the people who read into the behavior who disturb me.

Much of what we consider to be appropriate physical behavior is culturally conditioned. Citizens in some countries greet each other with kisses on the cheek. It’s not romantic. In some cultures you sill see two men, best friends, walking down the street holding hands. It’s not romantic – it’s a sign of solidarity and friendship.

How far can a parent go to show affection and love to his/her child? I’m willing to look foolish for the sake of my kids. It reminds me of the story Jesus tells in Luke 15 we sometimes call “The Prodigal Son.” The basic premise is that the young son bails on his family, takes part of the family fortune, and blows it all in a way that would bring shame and dishonor upon his family. So he decides to go home and ask his father for a position as a servant, since he doesn’t deserve to be part of the family any more (but he still needs a job, you know?!) Jesus picks up the story and says:

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

The father saw his son from a long way off and ran to him. In the Ancient Near East, men didn’t wear blue jeans. They had tunics. Running would have meant pulling up his tunic. It would have meant exposing part of his legs to the public so that he could run freely. But getting to his son was more important than what society thought. So he hitches up his tunic and runs to his son. He hugs his son. He kisses his son.

Jesus is trying to teach us something about how God, our heavenly Father, cares about us. There’s also something to be learned about a love so fierce that we’re willing to demonstrate it in front of the whole world. It also says something to our kids when we’re willing to show the affection we feel.

So last night as I was putting my kids to bed I kissed each one of them – my daughters and my son – on the lips. I told them I loved them. Then I said good night.

And I’ll probably do it again tonight, too.

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My and my baby girl 🙂

Jesus Vs. The Python Spirit

chains-19176_1920Going through the motions leaves one dry and empty with a cold religion. There is no intimacy with God. Authentic faith is about experiencing the power of the presence of God and His Spirit. You see, when we encounter Jesus our lives are changed. When we are changed, we are no longer captive to the things that used to keep us in bondage. Our great unknown today is a slave. But not just any slave, every slave. See, we are all slaves. Did you know that you are a slave? The only question is, “Who is your master?” We do not have only one slave in the story. The story is really all about spiritual power, hardness of hearts, and the ability of the gospel to change lives. This story is set up like a western showdown. It’s a showdown between different sets of slaves to see whose master is more powerful. Luke tells us the story in Acts 16:16-22:

16 And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain girl possessed with a python spirit met us, which gave her masters much business with her fortune telling:

snake-419043_1920The word python was originally used in Greek mythology for the snake that guarded the sacred place at Delphi, where divine prophecies were given. The python was killed by Apollo, the god of prophecy. The word was later used to describe fortune tellers who were thought to be inspired by the serpent called Python. Plutarch calls these people ventriloquists – their utterances are beyond their conscious control (they are only dummies, puppets). So she’s not really a fortune teller, so to speak. She’s a puppet through which a powerful demon speaks, telling people things about themselves that are true!

When you encounter someone like this you know that you’re dealing with one of three options: it’s God, a fraud, or a demon. There is no other way around it. The Bible warns believers to stay away from that kind of hooka-booka nonsense. At any rate, this girl brought in a lot of business with her fortune telling. And for some reason she attaches herself to the preachers. We don’t know exactly why. Perhaps in her possessed state she realized she needed some help. Perhaps the spirit in her was trying to antagonize Paul and Silas.

17 She followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, “These men are servants of the most high God, that are proclaiming to us a way of salvation.”

There is a possibility that the spirit in the girl is trying to create confusion and trouble for Paul and Silas. In Jewish and Christian circles, the expression “most high God” means the one true God, the Almighty. It’s the Greek expression for the Old Testament’s El Elyon. Genesis14:18 reads ~ “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of El Elyon, of God Most High.” But that’s not necessarily how pagans understood the expression. In Philippi the term ‘the Highest God’ could have been misleading. It was a pagan title for Zeus. Could it be that, as people are drawing in to hear about Paul’s God, this python spirit is trying to distract them and prevent people from hearing about Yahweh, about Jesus?

It makes me think of Oprah Winfrey and her spiritual guru, Eckhart Tolle. He tries to claim that the spirituality he promotes is compatible with the Christian faith. It is all under the same big spiritual umbrella. All he is really doing is confusing people from hearing the real truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Eckhart Tolle says there are multiple paths to “God.” The Bible says there is one path.

demon-1294136_1280There is also a power play going on here. In the ancient world, knowing someone’s name and knowing where they come from give you power over that person. Often times people would have a public name but keep their real name private among close friends and family. In standard exorcisms the exorcist has to identify and name the spirit being cast out. The act of naming gives you power over it. In the gospels we see Jesus run into several demons. The funny thing is that they try to exorcise Jesus! They use the standard exorcism language. They identify him by name and where he is from. “I know who you are, Jesus, Son of the most high God!” They knew his name, but they didn’t really know his true power or authority.

I get that same sort of feeling here in Acts 16. Here are Paul and Silas, out and about doing ministry, telling people about God and Jesus, and here comes this spirit who tries to exert authority over them. Remember, this passage is all about mastery and slavery. The spirit wants to show that he is in control. Thus we have a showdown. It’s a showdown between slaves. On one side, the girl, slave to the python spirit. On the other side, Paul and Silas, slaves to the most high God (even the spirit recognized this).

18 And she did this many days. But Paul, wearied, turned and said to the spirit, “I proclaim to you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he went out the same hour.

But this showdown is short-lived. You see, there’s really no contest. The evil spirit even foreshadows his own demise! Look again at the end of verse 17: “they are proclaiming to us a way of salvation.” And then Paul whips around and says, “Hey bub, I proclaim to you, in Jesus name, come out of her!” And the demon leaves. In the Greek the word is literally “goes out.” And gives us a funny little play on words in verse 19:

19 And when her masters saw go out the hope of their business, they caught Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace to the rulers,

Luke makes a humorous play on words: the leaving of the spirit (the python spirit went out) is the same leaving of the masters’ hope for business (hope went out). When Paul exorcised the demon he exorcised their source of income as well. They don’t care about anything else, just their cash flow. Never mind the miraculous exorcism that just took place. Never mind the state and well-being of the young girl. They saw their profits dry up and they became livid! Something similar happens later on when Paul is preaching in Ephesus (Acts 19:23-29). The unbelievers react violently when the gospel threatens their income. What becomes of the girl, we are not informed. You see, the story takes a turn here.

Paul and Silas were in a confrontation with a slave to the python spirit. Now they are in a confrontation with men who are slaves to the world. Sometimes the gospel of Jesus and the people who believe it are going to come into conflict with powers and enemies. Sometimes those powers will be spiritual, demons and darkness. Sometimes those powers will be people in authority or in a position over us. You might not be struggling with an actual demonic presence, but there are other presences, other temptations, you might struggle with serving when you ought to be serving Jesus Christ.

20 and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.

Romans were forbidden by law to convert to Judaism. Any evangelism would be seen as contrary to that law. Paul and Silas are in a bind. They know that they shouldn’t legally be telling people about Jesus and preaching the people need to change. But they know that people DO need to change, and that people will be incomplete without Jesus in their lives. Paul and Silas, they chose to serve God no matter what the cost. So when these angry merchants bring Paul and Silas before the magistrates they don’t stand alone as men. They stand as servants of the most high God.

22 The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.

You may know how this story ends. Paul and Silas get thrown in prison. But not just the minimum security “D” block. No, they get put into the inner prison, the pit, maximum security. This is a time to get glum. This is a time to be negative. But not these guys. Tertullian was a church leader foundational in helping establish Christian theology. He introduced the word “Trinity” to Christian vocabulary. He once said, “The legs feel nothing in the stocks when the heart is in heaven.” Did they feel like worshiping? Probably not. They were likely tired, aching, and scared. Yet they worshiped anyway.

As they’re praying and singing to God through the night, a massive earthquake comes and the doors fall down and the chains fall off! There is no hint that Paul and Silas are praying for release, though the other prisoners might have felt the earthquake was an answer to prayer! What the slaves to the world tried to do to Paul and Silas God disarms in the blink of an eye.

When the jailer finds the doors and chains destroyed he’s about to kill himself. Better suicide than public humiliation, beating, or possible death at the hands of the Roman authorities. But Paul stops him saying, “Wait, we’re all here.” And the jailer calls for a light (this is the deep dungeon, remember?) and asks Paul and Silas, “What do I have to do to be saved?” What exactly the jailer meant by his question of salvation is difficult to say. He may have heard the possessed girl earlier in the week that these men had come to proclaim the way of salvation….

And Paul and Silas tell him the only thing that matters – salvation comes through Jesus Christ. In the power encounter with the girl, the slaves of God overcome the slave of evil spirits. In the power encounter with the merchants and magistrates, the slaves of God overcome the slaves of the world. And now, in the dark of the prison, the slave to the Roman authorities, the jailer, asks what it takes to switch sides and be a slave of the most high God.

Friends, if there is anything that God would have us understand through this story it’s this: slaves of the most high God are really free. The girl, slave to the python spirit, is finally set free after an encounter with the most high God. Paul and Silas are literally set free from their chains! Even the jailer, bound to the Roman authorities and about to take his own life, finds the freedom offered by being a slave to Jesus Christ. Slaves to evil spirits, the things of the world, or the people of this world are really in bondage. 1 Corinthians 7:22-23 says:

“For the slave who has been called in the Lord is the Lord’s free person. In the same way, the free person who has been called is Christ’s slave. You were bought for a price. [So] stop becoming slaves of people.”

I am sure that we all know people who are bound up, trapped in lives, behaviors, and attitudes that enslave them. Even people in the church are in bondage when we should be experiencing freedom as slaves of the most high God. What would our Master have us do as His slaves? If we walk in the power of the presence of God’s holy spirit, how does that change our everyday lives? When we have a power encounter with Jesus Christ, we will be changed.

You may be a slave to lust and pornography. You may be a slave to gossip and slander. You may be a slave to anger or mastered by your short temper. You may wrestle with the spirit of complacency. Or maybe you are a slave to a critical and judgmental spirit. How would our Master have us act and live? There is a reason why we aren’t experiencing the freedom that comes with being a slave to the most high God? Have you asked Him? Have you hit your knees, acknowledged your slavery, and said, “God, I want to switch sides. I want to be slave to you alone and nothing else”? It’s time to get serious about who you serve.

Make up your mind.

Hey, Moon Jesus, Come Back Soon…

We listen to a lot of Christian music when we’re driving. Yesterday a great one for belting came on the radio: Even So Come.

All of creation, all of the earth
Make straight a highway, a path for the Lord
Jesus is coming soon

Call back the sinner, wake up the saint
Let every nation shout of Your fame
Jesus is coming soon

Like a bride waiting for her groom
We’ll be a Church ready for You
Every heart longing for our King
We sing, “Even so come, Lord Jesus, come.”

The 4 year old piped up in the seat behind me, “Did they say, ‘even so come Lord Jesus?'” The conversation then went like this:

Yes, baby girl, they did.

What do they mean “come Lord Jesus?”

God tells us in the Bible that Jesus is going to come back for everyone who believe in him.

(9 year old in the far back of the van): I BELIEVE IN HIM!

(6 year old in the middle): I BELIEVE!

(back to 4 year old): Daddy, is Jesus in the moon?

At this point I’m going to take a break to say that I have NO idea where this question came from. We try to keep the kids away from the weirder heresies and cults… 😉

No, Baby, He’s not in the moon.

No, where is he for REAL?

From there we entered into a brief conversation on the omnipresence of God (funny enough, we had just turned off Obi Wan Kenobi teaching Luke Skywalker all about the Force) and the return of Christ – well, as much as we could on a 4 year old level.

The point of telling this story is not to talk about the imminent return of Christ or about the attributes of God. I really wanted to share this story to highlight the fact that those of us who believe ought to be taking advantage of such opportunities to talk with our kids about God.

Of course, I hear people argue that Christians merely brainwash and indoctrinate our kids into faith when we ought to be letting them figure out their own way.

Hogwash.

We are all conditioned by our worldview. Some of us hold to a Christian worldview. Others, not so much.  Just a few moments ago I saw a friend post this:

Mike Dunger

And it’s true! The point is that we ALL approach life with a worldview, and we pass that worldview down to others. If we’re not passing our Christian worldview down to our kids, the outside world will pass down something else.

Think about faith this way. If I believe something to be true, I would actually be harming people by not telling them what I believed to be true. Is God real? Did Christ die a propitiatory death for humanity? Will we all stand before God again one day?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Why would I withhold that from my kids? Don’t let opportunities slip by. I’m not saying you need to force it. Don’t bash people over the head with your Bible shoutin’, “YOU NEED JESUS!” But as the opportunities arise, make the most of them. Let your friends and family know the truth you know. Not everyone will accept it, but if you REALLY believe it, why WOULDN’T you share it?

Unless you don’t REALLY believe…

Holding On To Politics But Letting Go of God

presidential-election-1336480_1280Let’s be honest – it’s easy for Americans to get caught up in the political furor of the presidential race. I don’t know the exact number but I think I remember hearing somewhere that more Americans than ever are turning out for primaries and rallies. People are HEAVILY invested in this race. And this is true on both sides of the aisle.

But Christians are too invested.

Yes, I said it. Christians care SO much about this presidential election that they are letting go of God. Of course they don’t admit it.

Heck, they don’t even recognize it.

They will claim that they believe the way they do BECAUSE of their faith. Funny enough, people on all sides of any issue make the exact same claim. But I don’t think that faith is driving the Christian fervor. Not really. It’s not about spirituality. It’s not about the Gospel. It’s about a superficial cultural religion – not real Christianity. Look at the words of the Apostle Paul:

bible-1031288_1920If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-17)

Let’s break it down:

  • Our priority is to FORCE God’s kingdom onto the nation. Where we are instructed to set our minds above, we choose to set our minds to November and re-creating a theocracy (which we never were, by the way – this was never God’s nation, and we were never God’s people “called by His name).
  • We revel in those things we are told to put away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk. Our candidates intentionally stir up these passions to rally us to their cause. This is not the Christian way. It’s political, sure, but not Christian.
  • Rather than seeing the unity of humanity in Christ, we highlight the differences between us. Now more than ever we hear language of separation – language that creates an “us Vs. them” mentality. This is not right.
  • We refuse to put on the attributes to which we are called: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness.

If these are the things that Christians are supposed to focus on, to cut out of our lives, and to put into our lives, why are we completely ignoring God’s word?

My guess? It’s because we’re not really Christian. We’re social Christians. We believe in a God-like being who kind of cosmically started things, but we’re not ACTUAL Christians where we’d allow God to tell us that our behavior is atrocious and that it’s time to change.

This is not me advocating for not voting. As citizens we have a responsibility to vote. Even the Apostle Paul knew how to use his Roman citizenship to accomplish his purposes. But Paul’s focus was not on being Roman. His focus was Jesus.

We’ve lost our focus on Jesus. We’re social Christians but not actual Christians. When God wants to change us we say, “Forget that!” We’d rather change the world around us. It’s time to walk away from setting our sights (and our hopes) on the government.

It’s time to refocus on Jesus.

Celebrities and a Theology of Death

cemetaryThis has been a crazy week for me. It’s been a death week.

On Monday I addressed a room of Navy leaders about the role of the Chaplain in Casualty Notification, when a Service Member dies and the Command sends a team to notify the surviving family.

On Tuesday Doris Roberts died.

On Wednesday Chyna died.

On Thursday Prince died.

I always find it a bit odd when the world goes bananas over celebrity death. They’re only celebrities. It’s not as though they are immortal. Of course they’re going to die. And I’m not trying to make light of people’s feelings. There is a genuine sense of loss and grief some people feel when a celebrity passes. I think this is because, while we don’t know celebrities personally, we feel as though we know them because we follow their careers and lives. Many of them impact us through their art, whether it be music, television, film, or any other media. When someone has a profound influence on me, of course I will take his death harder than a total stranger.

Nonetheless, death has been part of the human equation for a long time now. We all deal with it in different ways. Some address it with humor:

  • We die only once, and for such a long time. ~ Moliere
  • I intend to live forever, or die trying. ~ Groucho Marx
  • I am not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens. ~ Woody Allen

Some address this in all seriousness:

  • Death is like an arrow that is already in flight, and your life lasts only until it reaches you. ~ Georg Hermes

How, then, ought we to face death? I’ve seen some people use celebrity deaths to berate the lack of faith in the living:

“The death was tragic but is even more tragic if they don’t know Jesus!”

Sure, this may be true, but it usually isn’t the best time and place to be talking about it. It lacks tact and grace. A better route would be to help people develop a theology of death BEFORE an event (as opposed to DURING). The Bible DOES talk quite a bit about death.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them. ~ Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

All of humanity is mortal, and no one will escape it. Though we like to watch movies about immortal beings (living through the 80s and 90s meant I was a huge fan of The Highlander franchise), the reality is that death comes to us all. This doesn’t surprise us. What surprises us is when we’re not expecting the death. It’s easier to wrap our minds around the passing of a loved one who has spent time ill under hospice care than it is to comprehend a very sudden and unexpected death of someone regularly in the limelight.

But even though death comes for us all, the Bible points CLEARLY to the idea that death does not have the final say. The entire biblical narrative moves us in the direction of understanding that death is a natural part of our broken world but is defeated by Christ.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. ~ Romans 5:12-15

Paul writes that the final enemy of humanity to be defeated is death. And Death is not the winner. Christ is the winner. Death is not the end of things. It is the beginning of the next thing. This is why the Apostle Paul can declare with complete assurance, “Where, O Death, is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55).

But our theology of death cannot end here. It’s not merely about understanding that it’s going to hit us all and that Jesus has the final say. A real theology of death ought to affect the here and now. Paul writes:

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. ~ Romans 6:8-13

Knowing that Jesus conquered sin and death means we have a call in the here and now daily to put our sinful self to death. He died to sin for us and now we’re called to LIVE life for Him. His death is a clarion call for us to be fully engaged in the godly life now.

None of this is to negate the sorrow and loss people feel. We still work through those emotions. But a proper understanding of death will do us good not only in terms of grief and recovery, but in terms of living this life to the fullest now. And to those who grieve, I’ll leave you with the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero:

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

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If you’d like to do some more study on living and dying well, check out The Art of Dying by Rob Moll.

Dear Facebook, Your Theology Sucks

There I was at league bowling night when a Service Member approached me and flat out share-if-you-love-godasked, “Hey Chaps, what do you think of those ‘Share if you love Jesus’ memes on Facebook?”

I understand that I say things that offend people. I’ve been called heretical and even blasphemer. But I never TRY to offend people, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t blast this guy with my “truth.”

I said, “Staff Sergeant, I don’t think it’s right or ethical to try to force people’s behavior through manipulation and guilt, and those types of memes do just that.”

His response? “Oh, okay, so I don’t have to feel bad for not feeling bad about not sharing.”

Me: “Staff Sergeant, I NEVER share any of them.”

And he walked away laughing.

It’s an excellent question he asked because those memes are EVERYWHERE! I’m not even sure what motivates people to make them up. Who thinks it’s a good idea to make people feel bad for not sharing a ridiculous picture? In the end it’s not really about spirituality but about social media presence and influence.

Who can get the most shares? Who can get the most likes?

It’s public spirituality which smacks of insincerity and legalism. Rather, Jesus calls us to a life of private spirituality. That isn’t to put down corporate worship (worshiping as a church). Our group gatherings are an important part of our own spiritual growth. Instead, Jesus has in mind the spirituality we do in public as a show. For example, Jesus says:

“So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-4)

And Jesus continues:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)

Do you get the feeling that Jesus would see these memes and gag?

Don’t be spiritually manipulated by these flim-flam social media Christians. If you love Jesus, follow him and live by his commands. Please do NOT share any ridiculous memes.

A like does NOT equal one prayer.
A share does NOT equal 10 prayers.

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On the Campaign Trail With Jesus

usa-806576_1920Have you been following the debates and primaries around the nation? I have – like a nut. While I don’t promote any single candidate, I do very much care to see what happens and follow the process closely.

Have you noticed what happens after the results of every primary? What does the winner do? He throws a big party. Usually there’s a speech involved. What does the crowd do? They go BANANAS. The cheering, screaming, and chanting is something else. But in the midst of all the chaos we need to be asking ourselves three questions:

1) Are we following the right guy?
2) Are we following for the right reasons?

3) Are we willing to live with the consequences of following this guy?

This isn’t new to our political era. The scene has been the same throughout human history. From the beginning of time, we cheer and roar when our guy wins and comes out to celebrate. This is EXACTLY the scene we have at Jesus’s triumphal entry, the time we call Palm Sunday.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

The scene is an identical scene – a carbon copy – of the triumphal entry from many years before when the Maccabees defended Israel and defeated their enemy. And any Jew who knew his history COULDN’T have missed the parallels with Jesus’s entry. It’s no wonder people were going nuts.

The new Messiah was riding in the same way Jewish victors had in the past. In a nation occupied by Rome, the huge crowds saw a geo-political hero who was coming to set Israel free from Roman oppression. They had question 1 right – they were following the right guy (the Messiah) but they missed question 2 – they were NOT following for the right reasons.

humble-732566_1920They wanted a new political leader. They wanted to make Israel great again. They thought Jesus was the guy to make that happen. But their reasons for following were not Jesus’s reasons for showing up. Jesus wasn’t about geo-political power. He has NEVER been about geo-political power. Jesus is far too humble to care about such nonsense. In fact, when other leaders would march into town for their victory parade on a mighty steed, Jesus comes in riding on a donkey. Even in victory he is the epitome of humility.

When we make the decision to follow Jesus and understand the right reasons (vs. the wrong reasons) for following, we’re then forced to come to terms with question 3 – are we willing to face the consequences of following Him? It’s not an easy road. In fact, Jesus promised that in this world we WILL have troubles. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that Christianity is the easy way out. But even when we go through hard times we have a God who walks alongside us to comfort and care for us. The road following Christ may not be easy, but the rewards are eternally immeasurable.

Are you following the right person?
Are you following for the right reasons?
Are you willing to face the consequences of following?

Dear Cam Newton, Jesus Tried to Tell You

football-801047_1280I don’t know Cam Newton – never met the man. So I confess, everything I know about him comes from the news and his public actions. He seems to be a very talented athlete, and superstar athletes have their own brand of swagger.

A lot of people call it arrogance. It sure does feel that way sometimes. Michael Jordan, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, was constantly accused of being arrogant. I understand that performing at that level requires a certain amount of confidence. But at some point the confidence moves into arrogance, especially when you’re flaunting performance in the face of your opponents.

Since I don’t know the man I can’t say where his confidence/arrogance balance is – I just know that it can be a fine line to walk for any of us. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete to wrestle with that balance. Jesus talked about humility. The Bible tells us:

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Luke 14:7-11

Sure enough, even superstars get humbled.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I don’t know Cam Newton. I try not to make assumptions on his character and personality, since all I see is a public persona. But the words of Jesus are important for superstars and nobodies. Humility is a quality we would all do well to embrace.

To paraphrase Jesus, “Embrace humility before humility embraces you!”

Is Jesus Gender-Fluid?

There are many times when we have to go looking for bridges between Christ and culture – those stories that might be a natural lead in to steer a neutral conversation towards Christ.

Other times the stories hit you in the face.

Hard.

Sarah Silverman provided just such a story. Not too long ago she tweeted:

MERRY CHRISTMAS! Jesus was gender fluid!

pictogram-884043_1280If you’re like me and are not familiar with the phrase “gender-fluid,” here you go:

Gender fluid is a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities.

Naturally it cause a bit of a stir among those who consider themselves Christians. Jesus was not gender-fluid by this definition. He was not someone who identified as a man at one time and then later identified as a woman (or rejected all gender labels).

Silverman defended her “joke” by saying:

I was in Wales w my boyfriend and his family. I was sitting in the car on the way to Christmas at his sister’s and figured I’d sent out a Christmas tweet. Decided to add on a word from our collective vocabulary since, to me, it’s funny, beautiful, and true in that He is all of us.

Wow, Sarah Silverman. Thank you for reminding us that Christ is all of us, male and female. Except if you know anything about Ms. Silverman you’ll know that she’s no friend of Jesus. No, she wasn’t really trying to make a point about Christ in us all. She was playing loosy-goosey with words to provoke people with edgy humor. (If I’m totally wrong, Sarah, I welcome dialogue with you and you can explain how you as a nonbeliever view Christ in us all).

So, provocative humor aside, let’s take the explanation at face-value. Is there any merit in talking about Jesus as gender-fluid?

No, there is not.

The Incarnation is all about God taking on human form. The Gospel According to John says it like this:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it….

And the Word became flesh….

It’s the hypostatic union, the combination of the divine and human nature of Jesus, the Christ. But the human nature was a man. It does damage to the identity of Jesus to make attempts to change the Incarnation to fit ridiculous contemporary categories like gender-fluid or gender-neutral.

horrified-faceThat’s just crazy.

Yes, the Savior came for all, and the Spirit resides in all. Spiritually we are all on equal footing, for “there is no male nor female” in Christ. That does not eliminate gender distinctions.

It simply means that we ALL have equal access to God’s salvation – being male or female is not a basis for spiritual standing before God.

Is Christ in all and available to all? Yes.

Is Jesus gender-fluid? No.