Politics, Refugees, and a Call for Consistency

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX – DECEMBER 12: Referee Terry McAulay #77 at Cowboys Stadium on December 12, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

I, like many of you, have been watching with great sorrow the events that have unfolded in recent days with terrorism against Russia, (An airliner bomb) in Paris (Multiple coordinated attacks of an Islamic group), and in other places. There are thousands of people directly affected and millions more that are indirectly affected through the strategy of causing terror and disrupting social order (terrorism).

These events have been read into the narrative of the US policy to accept Syrian Refugees (political and humanitarian cause refugees) as 10,000 have been relocated to the United States as part of an international effort to alleviate suffering.

I am not going to opine on the wisdom of such actions. The problem is complex and cannot be solved with a few sentences on one pastor’s “blog site.” I believe there are scores of people who are far more qualified to offer a solution to the two-pronged problem of humanitarian assistance and national security. [NOTE: I believe that we have a tendency to drift toward one pole or the other in this complex situation and the ultimate solution may ver well be a balance of interests between both extremes]. 

Today I am a bit perplexed by some of my fellow pastors and missionally-minded individuals that have weighed into the discussion. Some have advocated a fullscale approach of receiving all refugees as a means by which we have an instant audience for the gospel. Others have advocated that we secure the borders and reject all refugees as an effort to provide security for our nation’s citizens because there is a clear lack of security protocol in screening the refugees.

What I find most curious…many of these pastors were the loudest critics of the church engaging in political causes through the years. These precious servants of God argued that the will of a previous generation of pastors to seek to engage the political process, help like-minded believers get elected, and prevent candidates of a different values system from coming into office was totally MISPLACED and HURTFUL to the missional purpose fo the church. These dear brethren trumpeted a position that the church was “supra-political” and should not seek to identify with or even be overly concerned with the political will of a nation since the Christians’ first and highest loyalty was to a King and not a political entity.

The arguments notwithstanding, is not your current demands for the national government to act in a certain manner the antithesis of your previous position on the church and politics?

I think, it would do well for us to remember that our nation has a role. Our government has a function as ordained by God to be a means of bring good to a people (common grace) regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds. The national government of the United States is not an instrument of the church to accomplish any particular act of will.

In other words, if you think the church should get out of politics, then you are inconsistent to argue for a Christian immigration policy. There is no such thing. There is, however, a responsibility for Christ-followers to care for and help the needy among them…including the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner/refugee. We can and should do that because our King tells us too.

In closing, the words of a really wise philosopher seem appropriate: “Before you tear down a fence (i.e. argue for the church to remove itself from politics), you ought to consider why someone may have built it. Perhaps there is a “bull” you don’t want to tangle with just beyond the former fenceline.

Love to hear your thoughts…


I am Dying…Just 1 More Year!

lightIn a conference that I participated in this week, one of the speakers posed the question, “What if you had three and only three years left to live?” How would you lives those remaining days?

As I have been chewing on that, it occurs to me that this is both helpful and painful. It is destructive and edifying…all at the same time.

How so…you might ask? (Yep…me too.)

If you only had a limited and fixed number of days to live, you’d likely spend every one of them in the most productive way possible. You would pursue the most important purposes. You would not allow yourself to become bogged down with the trivial things that so often consume your time and energy. You would be highly sensitive to the investment and outcome of every ounce of effort. After all…today is nearly gone and tomorrow promises one less day to invest in the Kingdom of God.

  • Certainly, you would invest in helping your family know how to live without you. You would pour into your children (in every possible way) the wisdom necessary to make it through the next several chapters of their lives.
  • You would seek to impress your affections for your spouse.
  • You would “bury the hatchet” with that old and lingering enemy. After all…life is short.
  • You would make amends with everyone.
  • You would seek to help others know (if you are a disciple of Jesus) the urgency of Salvation!

What would likely not be so prominent:

  • Your sports team’s record.
  • The fact that your friend hurt your feelings by saying something stupid.
  • Getting another raise (as if ten cents an hour really was important).
  • Buying that third pair of shoes or the latest CD or “rims” for your truck.

The fact is, we spend a lot of energy on things that are temporal and allow that which is eternal get pushed back until tomorrow. This, in light of the fact that we do have a fixed number of days (It is appointed unto man once to die), and that all men will stand before God and give an account for what he/she did with the Messiah of God. He/she will not be judged for his comparative righteousness or his education or heart for social justice…but for what he/she did with Jesus. In light of that…does not our daily concern for the temporal call us to repentance in light of its idolatrous pursuits.

I am dying! This is certain. If I am to be effective in my life and not squander the gift that God has given me, I must act AS IF it is at an unknown but very soon coming date and live purposefully and for the glory of God above all else. God deserves nothing less from me as I respond to His great grace toward me in giving me abundant life through salvation in His Son.

A Sign of the Times

boy-scout-sunday-clip-art-639313I have been in a painfully arduous dialogue for 2 days over a recent change in Scouting to expand achievement requirements for Boy Scout to include one additional step in the early rank achievements. (You can read about the move HERE). Now let me state simply and plainly up front: Scouting has, by design, always required a Scout to have a faith position in god. This view was never mandated as to what god or which god or even which gods. You could be an animist, a Buddhist, a Protestant Christian, a Muslim, Jewish, Native American, Wiccan, or even agnostic (since even this view acknowledges a higher force/power/being…but finds it irrelevant).

Consequently, there is much to be said about this approach to religious beliefs. It is an approach that is consistent with our cultural view of religion and is very American. We, as a nation, actually protect a person’s right to believe in any god he wishes and to practice any religion he wishes. The State cannot affirm any official religion, nor can it deny any citizen the right to worship in any manner he wishes. Our nation has always seen worship as an inalienable right, conferred on a person by his Creator. (Weird right…the right to ignore the Creator was conferred by the Creator).

In Scouting, the value of personal devotion/worship had to be synthesized with our American value stated above. As such, a scout was required to fulfill a duty to God regardless of who the Scout believed God to be. (Now for my Christian militant friends…I know that this seems weird since you might argue that if it did not specifically teach one religion–ours, then it is of no value, or worse–was harmful. I view this differently. I believe it to be a privilege to be part of the conversation. I hsve well-known that I hold a minority position as a faithful “Baptist” but am glad for the opportunity to speak of what I believe to be the ONLY accurate position about God).

So what made the conversation so painful? Simply stated…it is abundantly clear that most people I dialogued with are either IGNORANT of matters of faith, AMBIVALENT to matters of faith…or they are HOSTILE to Christian Faith (the primary image that comes to mind here in the modern Western world). A very small minority in the conversation would hold to a doctrinally faithful view of Christianity as I do.

Painful though? YES! Living in the Southeastern part of the United States, the “Bible-belt” of old, we have a limited view of the nation as a whole. Most people in my city (though it is changing) are at least polite about religion. Most would identify themselves as believing in the Christian God…as long as they could define the term. Few would outright deny the Christian God…or worse, see Jesus as harmful to the world (as MOST people in the world do). LET THAT SETTLE…because I know that last statement stings. 

You can read the comments (which will make you crazy AND, I pray, make you weep as well). They give a picture of a cross-section of our nation and provide perspective on the post-Christian existence that we as a nation are accelerating toward.

All of this reminded me this morning of three biblical truths:

  • None of this Surprises God: 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
  • None of this Conquers God: John 16:33
  • None of this Changes the Mission. It only intensifies it and increases our obvious dependency on God: Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15. 

When Spending is Irresponsible

money-amagills-photostream-fb4575e52ce940d9398d35c1db11ee4a-previewLet me say first that I am not a person that has a view that all debt is bad or that having “debt” is somehow unbiblical or ungodly. Debt in and of itself is not an indicator of spiritual immaturity or an unsanctified life. Having debt does not indicate a lack of intelligence, nor does it state unequivocably that the debtor is poor at finances.

I am a huge fan of Dave Ramsey and much of my teaching and pastoral ministry in this area of practical discipleship is influenced by his work as I help folks work to regain control of their finances.

Furthermore, as it relates spiritually (which is my particular area of expertise as a pastor/teacher) I find that idolatry and covetousness can be involved in a person’s life whether he has a debt or has none. (I personally know some people who live to NOT have debt and to increase their checkbook balance every month. In this case…the focus in their lives is still the accumulation of wealth rather than dependence on God and biblical stewardship.

Now here is the prompt: The leadership of the United States will again suspend the limit of debt accrual which was set at 18.1 Trillion dollars, averting a possible government shutdown until 2017. Now to determine if they are heroes or heathen…we ought to define the “debt ceiling.” HERE is a helpful article from the Congressional Research Service.

Frankly, I am not certain if simply know what the debt ceiling is or how it affects fiscal policy will shed light on the issue. In fact, here is a recent article explaining the agreement, and a general opinion piece of the validity of a debt-ceiling as it exists from an Economics Professor which recently appeared in Fortune Magazine.

What is true is this:

  • The United States owes 18.1 Trillion Dollars now and that is growing.
  • The Representatives elected to establish and manage budgets for us have just lifted that amount so that it doesn’t have to be discussed again until AFTER the 2016 election.
  • If you and I did this, Wells Fargo would foreclose on us. Quickly.

I cannot imagine going into my banker and saying, “Economy is bad and I have a bunch of pressing needs that are important to me. I’d like to increase the amount of debt I owe you even though I have no plan and show no activity demonstrating that I will stop spending. It is just important so give me more money.” I imagine a guard would slip up behind me in her office and escort me out.

Frankly…for me…the Debt-ceiling should trigger a pause in the spending process to examine whether we should continue our current course of action. It is APPARENTLY unable to do that because the same people restricted by its existence have the ability to simply vote to raise or remove it at will. Truthfully, they can only do so because people like you and me keep sending their “hides” back to Washington every two years to do it again! The People are the accountability and we are not holding them accountable.

Personally, I think this is one other example of the need for a Constitutional Amendment to limit the Congress in budget matters. The “Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA)” if ratified by the States would set barriers to Congressional action that would require them to seek approval to live above our means. What seems clear is that whether it is a BBA or some other device…if the People of the United States don’t have the will to hold representatives accountable and the COngress won’t hold itself accountable…then someone has to step up! Otherwise…we will be Greece or some other quasi-socialist experiment whereby the government takes it all and gives you back what they think you need.

So are our Representatives “heroes” for averting a government shutdown? NO! Not because they did not work hard to find terms of agreement but because they did not fix the problem; rather, they kicked the can down the road until soon after an election…so we the People might forget again before they run for reelection.

Stop putting your hand out!

US FlagLast night the Republican political party candidates met and entered into a debate. I missed most of it due to other obligations (though I typically try to set aside time to listen to the debates on both side of the political spectrum to hear “first hand” what the candidates have to say). This morning, I hit the “highlight reel” with two news organizations (again from opposite sides of the political spectrum). I listened to the 4 minute interviews with the candidates in the “post-mortem” of the night.

Perhaps what pushed me back in my chair the most, was not the prepared soundbites of the political candidates; rather, it is was the “impromptu” questions posed to the candidates by “real people” via social media.

I heard things like, “What will you do as President to help ME as the middle class?” This question took different forms but the substance was the same. Unfortunately, while the answers were nuanced, no one really said what I longed to hear.

I personally would love to hear a candidate say in a grandfatherly “Reaganesque” voice…”The role of government is such that it cannot help you. Government is not the answer to your problems. Government, in many cases, is the problem. The most helpful thing the government can do for you is to insure it does not hurt you as you do what a nation built on the ideals of freedom has promised you are possible and attainable. ”

The “attitude” that a potential candidate should have a plan to help the people is just a dressed up “liberal” concept. Yes…those on the “Right” of the political spectrum bemoan the attitudes of the “Left” that want more money for no more work. (Yes…you hear about a living wage, but you don’t hear employees crying out, “How can we make our McDonalds Restaurant more profitable?”) The attitude is reflected in asking for something to help YOU achieve what YOU want. While more palatable to the “Right” by the way the question was asked, it is still the same question.

Dear Mr. or Ms. Candidate of whichever Party:

Please say (as leaders must…even if they don’t get elected), “The best way for me to help you is to get out of your way. You have it within you as a human being and particularly as an American to do well…to achieve…to prosper…to contribute to Society. You do not need government to engineer your ‘salvation.’ You need government to stop trying to pick winners and losers and point the populace to care for one another and seek the greater good for all.”

Frankly, I know the depraved heart of man well enough that I don’t trust a politician to orchestrate what’s “best” for me. I desire a leader to help me see what’s best for me. I don’t need a “phone” or free internet. I don’t want you to hand me free food every month. I certainly don’t want your help “making it” as a middle-class American. You’re not! You have limited understanding of what it is to be me…a middle-class American. I simply want you to step back and scale back your good intentions and ask the question regarding the laws on the books and those that will cross your desk in the future, “Does this law/regulation/executive order fit within the Founding Father’s vision of limited Federal Government or not? Does it reach beyond the role intended for government? Does it inspire dependence or independence? Does it stifle productivity or encourage it?

Most importantly…I want the citizenry to recognize that we have the ability to succeed without the government’s help. We should not look to them to save us. We should see them, not as a facet of “business” to adjust to, but as an overarching regulatory body that insures we are operating according to agreed upon standards. For heaven’s sake…reduce the power of government by walking away from the “free stuff” and “help me” lines. When we stop putting out our hands and simply roll up our sleeves, we will begin to shrink the influence of the ominous power structure known as Government…and only then might we see it returned to its original design of “a Government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people.

Letting my Faith become bigger than my fears

Originally posted on Jodi Aiken:

lightWhy in the world am I starting a blog? Well it’s not something I ever thought I would do. Not ever! This blog is the Lord’s answer to a prayer from deep in my soul. I’ve been seeking God to reveal what more I can give of myself for Him and to glorify His name.  A prayer that I have taken to Him in secret, saying, “I want to demolish anything within me that is holding me back from being a light that shines brightly and a person who tells of His wonderful ways and unfailing love. A light that cannot be hidden.” A prayer to be what God says I am designed to be:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand…

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Jesus doesn’t have Conversations…

Open Bible 1Now before you pick up a stone…let me define the title further so that the statement makes sense. I am not speaking of dialogue such as recorded in the Gospels or the sense of petition and answer in prayer. I am not speaking of the declaration that Jesus calls us “friends.” What I am speaking of is the authority behind His declarations, whatever they may be.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that it is through the foolishness of the preached message that God saves souls! That is not some slighted statement…the foolishness of the “words of the cross” is actually the power of God unto Salvation to those who believe. The preached message is not a conversation. The Message (words) of the Cross is not an interpretive dialogue. It is a declaration of truth and a decisive call for acceptance by a divine authority, namely God Himself.

My point is: God is not negotiating with you and me. God is not asking for our opinions or seeking to build consensus on certain issues. God declares what is good, what is right, what is expected, and what is holy. He does so with authority and He wraps it in immeasurably abundant grace! But it is still authoritative.

One may ask…what if I don’t agree? What if I dispute and have a good argument? What if someone else stands up and says differently? Do any of these things change the fact that what God declares is already Sovereignly and righteously decided in Heaven? The answer is certainly, “No.”

In our cultural understanding of what is “acceptable” by OUR norms, we like to soften authority and make the determination of what is authoritative more subjective than we ought. We want to have conversations rather than hear declarations. We hear that “the Bible says…” and we say, “Yes, but I am not certain I agree with that.” Friend, honestly…that doesn’t matter. Jesus doesn’t have conversations about whether something is right or wrong, expected or optional. He declares truth and we decide to obey or disobey. Those are our options. He is our King. His Word is settled. His declarations are unimpeachable.

Shalom, CA