A Veteran’s Day Reflection

013923fce5d7501d412e51b996f17f8f050b0b80b6The Armistice, or cease-fire, of World War I was initiated on November 11, 1918. The “war to end all wars” had taken a heavy toll on America. “In November 1919, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day with the following words: ‘To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…’ .” (va.gov).

So, Veteran’s day exists to recognize the bravery and selfless service of servicemembers that risked life and sacrificed freedom, comfort, and security in pursuit of a higher ideal.

I see the day as a remembrance of something else as well…the beauty of peace and the high cost paid to secure it. The early celebrations of this day evoked pride from a nation. It was a pride in our strength but also pride in our ideals. In a real and tangible way, whether through observing a parade (which was the common observance in the early years) or listening to the stories of those who grew to love peace more while risking their lives to secure it, our nation came to believe the best of itself.

DSCN0155Today, parades are sparsely attended, even in military communities like mine. The celebration of freedom and honoring of sacrifice are often subordinated behind politicized agendas. Some even use the day to lecture those who’ve served on the dangers of military might to a peaceful world. Still others offer respectful greetings and kind words to those who have worn the uniform of our nation.

I hope that the day perpetually reminds us of a couple of valuable lessons, that if forgotten, may do great damage to the heart and soul of a nation. Remember that those we honor are worthy of honor…not because they gave their lives in battle, but because they committed their lives to the protection of liberty. Veteran’s day provides a necessary pause for a nation to simply say thank you as it enjoys the freedom that endures, not secured by the politician’s promise, or the press’s pen, but from the soldier’s service. I hope the day reminds us to prioritize gratitude and to weigh the worth of a free society. Finally, I hope the day serves as an example…as soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coastguardsmen demonstrate a unity of purpose that transcends, branch of service, race, creed, religion, and socio-economic realities. Our nation is not perfect, but on this day we encounter a glimmer of hope of what is possible.

01b39a7bb66084d168221b57ccf0cc70823daa9cf2I am honored to be part of a line of men (my father and grandfather before me, a younger brother with me, as well as a son after me) who have strapped up through more than four generations of national service. Furthermore, I consider it a high privilege to call my fellow servicemembers across the branches my brothers and sisters. May we continue to live the example of the ideal that challenges the status quo and promotes pursuit of a higher calling. Freedom depends upon it. To all my brothers and sisters, Happy Veteran’s Day 2018.

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Common Ground and the National Anthem

US FlagThis article will not address all of the nuances of the “kneeling” debate. The matter is far too complex for a single, simple article. I do want, however, to drill down on why the protest over standing at the National Anthem actually undermines the potential conversation because it eliminates a vital piece of common ground.

Let’s cover the bullet points that I won’t elaborate on so you can determine bias. Consequently,  everyone has some bias and is dangerous if you cannot recognize it.

  • I stand at the playing of the National Anthem. I will continue to do so. That has nothing to do with a camera or the current debate. It is an ethical issue.
  • I want others to stand and render courtesy toward the symbols of our nation (the flag and the National Anthem). I also recognize that what I want is not the standard. In fact, as a soldier, I took an oath to protect the very freedom secured in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution for you not to do so if you so choose. If you choose to kneel, it frustrates me and is offensive, but you knew that which is why you chose that manner of protest. It is intended to agitate me.
  • I don’t care how political NFL games get. I stopped watching them when this started. The entire NFL system codifies rules of what is considered sportsmanlike and by NOT calling this protest “unsportsmanlike,” they made a statement. So, I did too…in my home…by myself. If you watch pro ball, I am not offended.
  • The President spoke un-presidentially at a campaign-like rally in Alabama. Shame on you sir. When you stepped up and declared you are a Christian, you accepted a higher calling. Live up to it! Please. Jesus’ name is attached to your diction and rancorous tone. And, while it is not as significant as your status as a Christian, your role as President demands that you choose words more carefully. You’re supposed to be a role model. If my kids said what you said, I’d wear their hind parts out.

Now, to why I think it is counter-productive to kneel during the national anthem.

When I share the gospel with someone, the process begins with determining common ground. If a person does not acknowledge God, the biblical explanation of sin, redemption, invitation, and sanctified living lacks foundation. If there is no God, who is then offended by our sin? In fact, who gets to determine what IS sin and what is simply sinful in someone else’s eyes? The fact is until we can agree that there is a higher authority, there is no basis for further discussion.

A similar principle applies to the symbols of the nation. The very plea for justice implies that there is a standard that we are appealing to. If our claim is that God (and our creation in the imago dei) is the standard, we have created a distraction by wrongly pointing to the symbols of an ungodly nation. (Yes, I know that sounds offensive, but the nation we live in today does not reflect the principles or purposes of God). Our arguments are akin to the time Jesus took a knee when told to pay taxes to a nation whose leader was viewed as a god. Actually, the Roman Empire was polytheistic and enslaved Jesus’ people group. That’s why He formed the protests as a community activist. Wait…the story went differently in the Bible. He did not protest but kept pointing to a higher standard in an eternal Kingdom, not of this world.

If the standard we are pointing to for justice is found in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the nation including the Bill of Rights, the laws of the nation, etc., then by protesting the symbols of the nation, we surrender the ability to agree on them in our appeal. In other words, we disavow the symbols of our nation and thus the very laws we are appealing to. That leads us back to the unsustainable standard of “what is right in our own eyes.”

There are white leaders like myself that want to move the conversation forward. We do not agree with the incidents of injustice that occur in our nation, whether those are circumstantial or systemic. We want to address them and see them changed, now and not later. No one that I know supports or advocates police brutality. Professional police officers don’t want to be saddled with that imagery any more than a faithful pastor wants to be saddled with the likes of some of the health and wealth preachers on the airwaves. However, we cannot support a protest movement that immediately disavows in its actions the standard that we would otherwise appeal to. In other words, the movement is dead on arrival because we cannot agree to a starting point.

It seems to me that until we can agree on the standard we are appealing to and lock arms there, we cannot move forward together. That means there will be a lot more Freedom of Speech with far too little discipline to listen. If I were making a suggestion that anyone listened to. I’d walk out, thankfully render courtesy to the authority I was appealing to, then ask my brothers to the left and right to join me in rooting out injustice in our midst. I think that appealing to the standard we all can agree to (Liberty and Justice for ALL) is a great starting point for our conversation, even if we are not all Christians at the table. At least we can agree that we are all Americans and have benefitted in our lives from that status…

As always, Comments are welcome, but be respectful if you want to see them published.

Response to Charlottesville, VA

SwasticaThis Sunday, in response to the deplorable actions of white supremacists and according to the necessity of the calling on my life as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I spoke to my church family in a public manner to register my disgust with the racism on display in Charlottesville. It seems odd that a minister of the Gospel would have to speak up and articulate a position which should be assumed as it is the ONLY position that can be held by any follower of Jesus and student of the Holy Scriptures of God. In the very public age in which we live, it seems necessary to also make my comments available as they were given extemporaneously during the first 12 minutes of the service this weekend. The clip is available HERE.

There is no Christian justification for any of the racist actions of what is known as the alt-right movement and the display of hatred at the weekend’s protests is categorically and completed indefensible. The position of our church and my position personally is that of the Word of God: That all men are created in the Imago Dei (Image of God) and therefore possess equal and inherent worth in the sight of God. Any different view discounts and disagrees with Holy Scripture and is cause for man to repent and seek forgiveness from God and his fellow man.

Any movement or action of a person or people that treat others as “lesser beings” based on race is evil, despicable, indefensible, ungodly, unholy, and is the antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A racist is no worse a sinner than any other sinner. All sin is offensive to God and damaging toward others. Our heart is for the reconciliation of all men to God, knowing that all who come to Him are made acceptable as one people known not by the deeds of our hands or the color of our skin but by the name of our Savior, Lord, and King.

We grieve with those who are hurt, frightened, or justifiably angered by the reprehensible conduct of those who advocate for all forms of racism and for any superiority of person on the basis of race.

We call on sinful men, including those protesting and advocating for white supremacy to repent and turn to God begging His forgiveness and pleading with Him for mercy. Further, we call on sinful men of all ethnicities to turn to God and from self, to trust in Christ alone who is the avenger of the weak and the judge of all mankind, and to seek reconciliation with God in consideration of God’s gospel work in our lives.

I do not know of one evangelical Christian who affirms or tolerates the sinful position of racists of any stripe. Racism is categorically wrong. That said, I wanted to add my voice to the chorus of those who have publicly denounced the actions of racists in Charlottesville in recent days so as to remove any perceived ambiguity as to my position.

Congratulations…

US FlagLet me begin by saying congratulations to all of those who won their respective political races in this charged and often contentious political season. I was greatly hopeful for many of those who won their races because I know them. They lead school boards and offer leadership for my local community.

I remember eight years ago when a Senator from Illinois became the President-Elect. He was not my preferred candidate. I disagreed with his platform and his resume but I found him to be articulate, winsome (for the most part), and the fact that he was the first African-American man to be elected to office gave me pause and great hope that, perhaps, our nation might be turning the corner from the long, pitted avenue of racism and racial inequality. I celebrated what the presidency of Barack Obama might represent. He was (and is for a couple more months) OUR President. The Office of President is deserving of respect and anyone elected to that office deserves to receive honor as the duly elected leader of our beloved country.

I had deep personal concerns though. At that time a man was being elected who was a populist. He fired up the crowds and wooed their votes with very little substance. He promised “Hope and Change,” but the people spent very little time seeking to understand what ideological framework would guide that change. This morning, I wonder if we have learned our lesson as a people.

I did not wait up to hear the election results last night. Not because I am better or worse than anyone else who did…but because I was at peace that there would be a new President-elect this morning. I believed that the American experiment begun less than three centuries ago would persevere and that there would be the beginning of a peaceful transition of power which has generally described our democracy since its inception. I also believed that the ultimate seat of power and authority did not change. Regardless of candidate, the throne of heaven would be occupied as it had been and God was no more or less sovereign than yesterday.

I will probably avoid Facebook today. My first glance at my news feed consisted of exuberant celebration by most on my friends list. Others were rude. Some were despondent. Some were offended. If anyone asked me…I’d say get some sleep and take a breath. It’ll be ok. There will be no peaceful transition of power in heave. The Prince of Peace is still on the throne.

Is there a challenge ahead? Yes. I’d challenge believers everywhere to obey Scripture:

First of all, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4, NASB)

Second, I’d challenge believers to support our President-elect and his cabinet, our Senate and our House of Representatives. Important days lie ahead. A nation does not experience unity simply because a candidate concedes an election and another offers conciliatory comments. There is a monumental task ahead for our President-elect to demonstrate that he is not the “same man” that he used to be. Our President-elect has the task ahead of leading a nation toward prosperity, toward security, and toward safety and dignity for all people regardless of race, sex, or age. His task is to lead. Sometimes that may consist of building consensus. At other times it will be simply to lead. This is why character is God’s top criteria to look for in a leader.

To Secretary Clinton…thank you for your years of public service. I am not unhappy in the outcome of the election but I recognize that these are difficult days as you consider the loss and what your candidacy meant to the millions that supported you across the nation. I wish you well and a quiet life outside of public service.

To President-elect Trump…be assured of my commitment to pray for you as God has directed. I suppose I will fail at this task many times over the next four or eight years, but I will endeavor to faithfully intercede for you, your administration, and for those other officials you will lead. May God grant you favor and wisdom and grace to uphold the dignity of the Office of President. I also pledge to honor the Office of President. I have been loyal to the Office through many presidents on both sides of the political aisle. I took up arms to enforce their policies. I am loyal to the Office and will remain so unless or until the Office is used to violate my God’s higher law. Until then, I am a loyal and supportive citizen.

To all of the others who were elected last night across our city, state, and nation, forgive me for not naming each of you by name, but know that I rejoice with you and wish you success as you fulfill the task before you. May God strengthen and guide you throughout your term of service.

Now…let’s go to work. It is Wednesday. If you’re reading this…you’re the recipient of life and a new day to serve the One who gave His life so you could both KNOW Him and make HIM KNOWN. Do that well today.

A Pastor’s Swing at Trump/Clinton Race

Just saw this interview of a SC pastor on a liberal news talk show. He was definitely outnumbered.
HERE is the link. A couple of interesting observations from my perspective:
  1. The panel (all of them) have a strong bias. [It’s a talk show so I am not against that, just observing a fact].
  2. DT has said some things that are outrageous and unhelpful to himself, his campaign, and conservative causes. (I don’t think he cornered the market in that regard either).
  3. This pastor may have done a bit better to just say that he disagreed with DTs characterization of HRC and other weird stuff. Just say you don’t agree. We are men of God…so speak for God and let the chips fall.
  4. Al Sharpton speaking about “moral authority” is laughable. I intentionally left the clerical reference off his name since I find his actions to be a blight on the calling of ministry. He is no reverend in my book and I am very charitable in this area. (Does he still owe back taxes?)
  5. AS saying that it is wrong to ask a people to vote for a man who has not laid out all of his policies is crazy and politically motivated. (Hope and change anyone? The POTUS was as light on policy declarations as any candidate I can remember going back to the 80s when I first came of age to consider these things as an adult.)
  6. The pastor’s answer was dead on. Look at the man’s values and convictions. No one knows what policies are possible or likely to be implemented. A proper understanding of our government is that laws are enacted by a Congress and carried out by the Exec Branch.
  7. The pastor’s transparency should resonate with believers. If you are TRULY a follower of Jesus, you MUST consider how a vote will affect things. If you can vote for HRC who is unapologetically pro-abortion rights…you need to be able to articulate how that syncs with your theological understanding…because there will be a test. Judgment seat? If you vote for HRC who sees no value in traditional marriage and supports every stripe of union outside of the ONLY Christian understanding of marriage, you need to be able to square that with your theology. The Department of Education…whatever (who cares?) It is not a biblical issue. In the same vein…if a candidate can and will marginalize a person or a group of persons based on race or religion…you must be able to define how that is reasonable according to your theology. There is a test folks.

I was in a meeting with faith leaders and Republican Party leaders in Pensacola a few weeks back. I haven’t been invited to a meeting with Democrat Party leaders yet but would certainly attend and speak if invited to. This seemed to be a consensus from what I heard at my meeting:

  • DT is a hold your nose and vote candidate for a lot of evangelicals. He is better in most every area over HRC, but it is a hard pill to swallow.
  • A vote for an unelectable 3d party conservative candidate is effectively a vote for HRC. No way around it.
  • An evangelical refusal to vote for any candidate is by default a practical vote for HRC. Her base is in lockstep. They are not sitting it out. You may feel principled in your position but if you truly understand the times in which we live…it is a vote for HRC.
  • You don’t have to agree with every aspect of a Candidate to like them or to vote for them. I disagreed with (I think) every aspect of the current POTUS platform, but I liked him. He was fun…and living during the reign of the first black President is kinda cool. (Yes, I know I said reign). That being said, I can’t remember any candidate that I agreed with everything…but I do generally vote moral/social/religious concerns and let God work out the economy.

Here are a couple of truths I have settled on based on evidence, not party talking points or FOX/CNN/MSNBC bias.

  • HRC lied about Benghazi. People died and she lied. She was in the “know” and possibly complicit in the decision to leave an Ambassador and Security personnel in jeopardy…but she continues to avoid responsibility. (She lacks character!)
  • She lied about her emails. She intentionally broke security protocol, mishandled information, and withheld cooperation in the investigation in substantive ways. (She lacks character).
  • She mishandled classified material. (Lack of responsibility for job performance).
  • She scares me on national security issues.
  • DT has a sketchy past. He has done some goofy stuff and seems like a pragmatist in many ways. (Several question marks about his character).
  • DT seems like a patriot. I assume HRC is also patriotic in her motivation.
  • DT could not serve as a pastor, deacon, or small group leader in my church. I’m not sure he could even be a member. What I am sure of, is he is not running for any of those positions in November.
  • I have a Christian responsibility to seek the welfare of my nation and as far as I can tell, faith alone cannot be a valid litmus test for either candidate…or they both lose because they are both sketchy.

Love ya. Feel free to chime in…

The Moral Compass of a Nation and Women Drafted for War

The US Senate voted this week to require all women turning 18 years of age to register for Selective Service (the draft). a NY Times article covering the development can be accessed HERE. Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Seminary offers commentary HERE, approaching the issue from the perspective of equality.

It is important to note that the Senate decision does not make a law. There will have to be a conference committe to reconcile House and Senate versions of the bills and then it will require executive action for the bill to become law.

My opinion is continuing to be shaped but my concern, that which grieves my heart, relates to the moral implications of this decision.

Though this decision is the logical extension of the current Administration’s policy change requiring that even the most physically grueling and dangerous jobs of combat be opened to women, this next shift make women serving in these roles no longer ONLY voluntary but potentially compulsory. It may also be argued that since our nation has had an all volunteer military since the early 70s, that the issue is merely proforma and is practically unrealistic. My opposition to this Senate action relates not to the likelihood of compulsory combat service for women, but to the possible compulsory service of women in combat.

If this provision of a much larger military bill is signed into law, the proponents and signer of the bill MUST assume that their daughters and granddaughters WILL be called to fight in hand-to-hand combat with a jihadist (for example) in a distant land or within the borders of our beloved country.

This bill requires every able-bodied woman to take up arms to defend a nation if the government requires it. A young mother will be required to stand before an enemy and kill or be killed according to the orders of her officers even if her commander is an able-bodied man in a tent miles behind the protected line.

I am disturbed that the morality, not to mention the common decency of this action, is even open for discussion. How does this fit in any narrative that honors God? Have we as a nation moved so far from a moral compass that we would demand that our granddaughters take up arms to kill on our behalf?

As for me, I cannot with good conscience ever expect or willingly permit a woman to stand between me and evil. My perspective is not based on her ability; rather, it is based on her value as precious and my GOD ORDAINED responsibility to protect and care for her…as a man.

I am interested in your thoughts as I grieve over this atrocity and malfeasant reckoning of logic by our elected representatives. I pray there is still time to draw a line between opportunity and responsibility  as it relates to women in military service.

Judge Not…It doesn’t mean what you think.

Statue_of_Liberty_7The news is all abuzz in recent days over a feigned “dust-up” with Presdiential candidate, Donald Trump, and the Pope. It emanates from a press conference with the Pope on a North American visit where he said (among many other things) that (and I paraphrase) the concept of building walls rather than bridges is not a Christian worldview. Some took his comments to be a personal judgment of Trump’s relationship with Christ and rejected them.

Trump himself said, “No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man’s religion or faith.”

In an interview on 2-18-16, I heard Jerry Falwell Jr, a prominient evangelical voice say that he personally has heard Mr. Trump’s testimony and that he had “no doubt” that Trump was a Christian.

So, what “tweaks” me a bit is the misuse of Scripture by so many commentators about why the Pope COULD NOT judge Trump’s relationship with God.

“Judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1) has rolled off the tongues of many pundits in recent days. While I (obviously) affirm the veracity of Scripture, I do not believe this verse means what they claim it does.

Verse 2 of the same chapter says, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged.” Verse 3-5 give a qualifier that a man should remove the “plank” from his own eye BEFORE removing the “speck” from his brother’s eye. Doing so allows him to see more clearly as he acts in JUDGMENT by removing the speck from his brother’s eye. Finally, verse 6 gives an instruction,”Do not give what is holy to [non-Christians]. IS THERE A MORE JUDGMENT-LADEN STATEMENT IN THE GOSPELS?

Let me offer a couple of observations, but first, some brief qualifications:

  • I am not Catholic, therefore I reject that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ. I do not believe he speaks for Christ simply by nature of his office.
  • I am not a Catholic-basher. I don’t believe that simply because a person pursues an untenable faith system, they should be outright rejected on every point or opinion on matters of faith.
  • I am not a Trump supporter. I see no fruit of a personal relationship with Christ (which is an anecdotal observation at best). I do see significant evidence of a petulant American businessman who has been very successful in global business. I also believe there MUST be far more to Mr. Trump than is presented in his campaign for President. I believe that while he is the MOST successful businessman in the race, there is more to being President than just business acument.
  • Finally, if you believe differently on the Pope or Trump, I do not consider you an enemy. We disagree and that should be okay for adults to do.

OBSERVATIONS: 

  • Faith is not strictly personal. We are not judged by what we think of us, but by what Jesus thinks of us. (Mt 7:21-23, et.al).
  • The outworking of our “faith” ALWAYS bears evidence of our faith. If your faith is in YOU, I can see it. If it is in God, I can see your humility and wholly committed desire to obey and follow Him to the exclusion of everyone and everything else.
  • Our faith is imperfect…meaning that we are not always “docked in the right harbor,” but the ship of our life should constantly be pointed there…and when we are off course, we MUST make immediate course correction.
  • The Office of President in not an office to expand the Kingdom of God. The responsibilities of the Civil Government are different than those of a church or a parachurch ministry. God has appointed it as such, on purpose (Romans 13).
  • It would be malpractice in office for the President, however idealistic, to sacrifice security of the citizenry to ascribe to some idealistic goal. (By the way, isn’t that a common refrain from the current President’s political foes?)
  • National security and compassion toward the poor are not mutually exclusive. You do not have to choose “either/or.” Arguing that you do is more rhetoric than logic. We have celebrated it for centuries as a nation [See tall lady in NY Harbor].
  • Don’t think for a second that this “dust-up” makes Mr. Trump some sort of victim. He is “crazy like a fox.” His name is dominating the new cycle (and apparently my blog) and now he appears to be a victim of Catholic prejudice. [Underneath…I think he is smiling at the free press].
  • Finally, ILLEGAL immigration is not a tenable “Christian” position. [See Romans 13]. This should be obvious to the citizens of this nation and if a foreigner (i.e. the Pope) has a different opinion…so what? He is not a citizen of the nation. He has an opinion. Me too. I just don’t get a press conference everywhere I travel…so I air my opinions here.

Hey, by the way, we are not told to “judge not,” as if we are never to have an opinion informed by the Word of God on another person’s relationship with Christ. In fact, just the opposite. So…hear this…if you are not actively following Jesus in yielded and intentional submission to Him and His plan for your life…my JUDGMENT ON YOUR LIFE is that you have never met Him (unChristian) or you’re in active rebellion against Him. The prescribed remedy is the same…abandon your rebellion against God and bow before the One, True God who alone saves and who alone is worthy of worship.