Search

The Bible Blotter

Turning the Bible Into Behavior

Tag

Religion

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.”

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?

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.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _
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!

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.

*If any of this post has resonated with you, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email the link to your friends and family. Thanks! 🙂

Losing Religious Freedom

Providing Spiritual Care to ALL Soldiers...
Military Chaplains – Providing Spiritual Care to ALL Soldiers…

***As always, I speak for myself. I represent no government or military organization.***

This morning I woke up to this disturbing news article about a Chaplain’s Assistant facing reprimand for voicing her personal beliefs on her personal Facebook page. Please note that the Chaplain’s Assistant posted her personal beliefs on her personal Facebook page. She was not utilizing government time or equipment to push her faith on someone else. She stated her opinion regarding biblical values. Her Commander threatened her with a reduction in rank and pay if she did not remove the post.

I will be perfectly upfront and admit that the only thing I know about the incident is what was reported in the story. You know as much (if not more) than I do. If the story is true then we are looking at an incredible injustice. So please let me climb up on my soapbox for a few minutes.

There are two sides to this ugly coin:

First, to those who push an agenda of equality and rights and social justice, to those who reported the Chaplain’s Assistant for creating a “hostile and antagonistic work environment” I say this: freedom and equality is a two-way street. You cannot cry out for the freedom to live and speak as you choose and then silence those who disagree with you. It seems as though any vocalizing of disagreement with you is considered hateful and hostile. Is it not possible to disagree without being hateful and hostile?

You have become the oppressor when you try to silence your opposition. If you really believed in the freedom you claim you desire then, as much as you have the ability to live and speak the way you please, those who dissent have that same ability to live and speak as they please. As Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, notes: “Just because a person wears a uniform does not mean they give up their religious liberties and their ability to speak about matters of faith.”

Freedom is a two-way street.

Second, to those who would side with the Chaplain’s Assistant, I have a word for you from the New Testament book of 1 Peter 3:14-18 ~

“Even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

Honestly, I’m tired of militant Evangelicals demanding this and that, screaming about injustice and trying to force our way on society. From my reading, the Bible is pretty clear that the world ultimately is not on our side. We belong to God. We do not belong to this world. Peter’s church suffered a lot of persecution at the hand of unbelievers. We should not be surprised when this world turns against us.

Let’s face it, Western Christianity has lived a charmed life for the last 1700 years. We’ve become so comfortable that we’ve forgotten that we’re temporary residents here – we don’t belong here permanently. Peter’s words ring true today just as they ever did: take it all with gentleness and respect. We become pushy when we feel we’re owed something. Instead, we ought to accept it as a natural result of a broken world.

As much as possible I believe those of us in a democratic republic need to keep working towards real equality. That means that everyone gets a voice, even if we disagree with each other. Disagreement isn’t hate – it’s just disagreement. At the same time, don’t forget that we’re just passing through. Things will get worse for Christianity as the years progress (I think history bears this out). It doesn’t matter. Even when we suffer, don’t fear. Don’t be frightened. We still serve Jesus, and that’s our end – eternity with him.

The situation in this news piece really gets under my skin (as a Christian and as an Army Reserve Chaplain). If it is true (as I said, I only know what is reported in the story), I think the Commander was out of line and wrong to reprimand and threaten the Airman. I am disheartened to think that religious freedom is taking a backseat to a pseudo-tolerance (tolerance when you agree with me, I’ll silence you if you disagree with me). But still, Jesus reigns over all. One day all the wrongs of this world will be made right. Until then we persevere with grace, dignity, gentleness, and respect – no matter what comes our way.

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Why Democrats Are Wrong (okay…Republicans, too)

United We Stand...
United We Stand…

We live in a highly polarized society. Sometimes it feels that moderates are seen as wishy-washy and that, if you were truly a believer in your cause, you ought to gravitate towards one extreme or the other. I have joked that being a true moderate is tough because the Right accuses you of selling out while the Left accuses you of not selling enough! But I believe that the best view is a moderate view – that extremism can lead us into dangerous waters. Please allow me to expound.

The Left/Liberal/Progressive/whatdowecallitthesedays? side is often seen as the side that cares about issues pertaining to social justice, people care, and advocacy.

The Right/Conservative/Fundamentalists/whatdowecallitthesedays? side is often seen as the side that cares about issues pertaining to piety, personal righteousness, and morality. The talking heads from both ends of the spectrum use these stereotypes to beat up their opponents. Left commentators talk about how uncaring Right politicians and leaders are. Right commentators talk about how the Left wants to destroy family values and morality and turn this nation into one giant Socialist commune.

I believe that there are positive elements to both sides (now would be an appropriate time to gasp and start writing your apologetic diatribe for the comments section). Not only are there positive elements to both sides, but I believe that God calls us to a more moderate position – the only real way forward.

In the New Testament, the letter of James tells us:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

BAM. There it is. There are two sides to this coin. James is both Liberal AND Conservative at the same time! Can it be?!? He tells us that pure religion is two-sided. Part one is the social justice element that the Left loves so much – take care of widows and orphans in their distress. With the Ancient Near East (ANE) workforce being what it was, if you were a widow or an orphan you were just plumb outta luck. You had a good chance of going without food, shelter, or any other basic necessity. It was the job of the religious faithful to care for these who could not care for themselves. If you extend that principle into our modern society we would probably do well to add other groups in there. While widows can join the workforce, are we seeking to take care of people who are disadvantaged and disenfranchised? Are we actively looking to care for those who are in a bad way? Who have no leg up in society? If not then all of our religion can be flushed down the pooper.

But on the other side of the coin James shows us his Conservative streak. Pure and faultless religion includes keeping oneself from being polluted by the world. There is an element of personal righteousness, morality, and character involved. Without it, our religion is junk and is worthless. All you Conservatives – give a cheer! Character counts. It doesn’t matter how many poor people you help, how many social programs you implement, or how much to create a Socialist environment that takes care of everyone and every little thing. Without righteousness and holiness is worthless.

So where does that leave us? I believe that it means that faithful Christians ought to examine their politics in light of the Bible. It means that those of us who lean Left need to remember that holiness matters. Those of us who lean Right need to remember that practically caring for people matters. It’s not one or the other. It’s BOTH AND.

If we actually lived this way we’d put a lot of the talking heads out of work. Their books, radio shows, and news programs thrive on dividing people to the extreme. But it’s not biblical, for we are called to both. So…you up for it? Will you put faith before politics and try to live BOTH AND? Let’s put some talking heads out of work. 😉

How about you? What experiences have you had with the Left, the Right, or trying to walk the Moderate middle?

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: