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.

Light, The Cross, and Renewed Purpose

Light, The Cross, and Renewed Purpose

Symbols have served the church as powerful teaching tools for hundreds of years. Whether it was the Stations of the Cross, or the Gospel depicted in stained glass, pictures and symbols provide rich imagery that helps the gospel come alive in the minds of the parishioner.

This past week, several men in the church I serve put in the sweat equity to make such a symbol come alive for us. For a number of years, we have discussed how to get a new cross as a focal point in our church services. With limited budgets and no shortage of ideas, we set out to prayerfully consider how to best do so. We wanted to tie in our baptistry space. We wanted the cross to be prominent. We wanted to have something new but that reminded us of the free-standing cross we displayed in our worship space at many points of the year.

We discussed accent walls with stone, tile, murals…you name it. Then we landed on the current design. It seemed only fitting to explain a bit of what the different parts mean to us.

img_3480First is the cross. While we don’t worship the cross, it does bear theological prominence. We recognize that the cross is, by design, an instrument of death, but it is on the cross that our Lord and Savior bled and died to provide us eternal life (John 3:16). He completely satisfied the just penalty for our sins (1 John 2:2) when he died on the cross nearly 2,000 years ago.

Furthermore, our cross is empty. It is empty because Jesus completed the substitutionary atonement and no longer has need to occupy the cross. We know that in some church traditions, Jesus is still visible on the cross. We reject this understanding because we believe that Christ’s atoning work has already been accomplished and does not need repeating.

In addition, our cross is stained, meaning that we did not wish to cover over the wood with paint to make it more attractive. The color one sees comes as wet stain soaked into the wooden cross, much the same way that the Lord’s blood stained the cross he was crucified on.

Additionally, there is a light behind the cross which reminds us that Christ came as light into the world (John 1:9). Light is powerful and enlightens man to see Christ through the darkness. Light always triumphs over darkness.

Finally, the cross is set against a backdrop of wood. This wood was created for a purpose and was then discarded. It is reclaimed “pallet wood.” The wood is imperfect.  No two pieces are exactly alike. Some still have splinters. Some still bear the holes where nails had previously been driven. Each piece was reclaimed from its discarded state to be fashioned to fit together with other discarded pieces until there was perfect coverage on the wall. Part of what made the wood useful again was the application of stain, just as with the cross.

In these pieces of reclaimed wood, we find a picture of ourselves as the church. We are all different. We were created for a purpose but due to our sin, we were suitable only to be discarded; that is, until Christ and the cross shone forth light into the darkness of our existence. Each of us were reclaimed and covered with stain that penetrated into us and revealed our character. Then, in the hands of a master craftsman, we were fashioned and placed back into service.

When you see the cross above our baptistry at Calvary, do not think that it is just another accent wall and religious decoration. It is, instead, a symbolic representation of reclaimed lives with renewed purpose because of a loving Savior, a Cross, and light shining into darkness.

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.

Mr. Trump, Character should STILL matter!

150810-donald-trump-debate-743a_ded2a0af932f2c2332757273ea911da2.nbcnews-fp-1200-800Last evening, the candidate leading the GOP primary race, Donald Trump, made a visit to my fair city. The downtown was all abuzz with thousands of people piling into the civic center to hear from the man who, by many accounts, could be the next President of the United States. Honestly, I am a bit of a cynic on political campaigns because they are often scripted and “poll-tested” to the point that Joel Osteen could run for office and give you your best life by Friday.

On the ride home from a late meeting at the office, I listened to the live broadcast on the local AM Station. It is about an 8 minute ride and as I was driving I heard some of the most “crass” language I have ever heard from a political candidate for the highest office in the land.

Now before you “x” out of this article…give me 3-4 more minutes. I am not anti-culture. I am not an establishment Republican, a die-hard Democrat, or an anti-Tea Party subversive. I am a father, a husband, a pastor, a veteran and a die-hard patriot.

I am not even going to take issue with the SUBSTANCE of Mr. Trump’s platform. On many points I agree with him and on many others, I scratch my head, but am not opposed to him. I differ with him on a couple of things (perhaps) but I don’t think that will cause him to send the jet to bring me to his HQ to vet my ideas for a possible platform shift for his campaign.

My concern…that which causes my heart to struggle is more about “style” than “substance.” It relates to the internal drive of a man…both the man speaking and the man listening (and cheering him on). It is actually deeper thn style…but is an issue of character.

In my short listen yesterday, I heard “the Donald” drop 3 expletives about the audio system. The man who installed the mic, the SOB who did that should not be paid. If a man doesn’t do his job, I don’t pay the b_st_rd.

So we are not taking about little accentuating words that cause eyebrows to raise. This language, while possibly second-nature to some folks was used to illicit a response. Mr. Trump was trying to fire up the crowds! He was seeking to create a heightened emotional response! And his actions lacked CLASS.

The Office of President of the United States should be the most revered office in our land. The single leader of the greatest democracy of the world should be the classiest, wisest, most character-exhibiting figure on the planet. He should be one that parents refer to when they tell their children that they can be anyone they choose if they work hard and do the right thing.

The highest office in the land needs some class. It is time to hang our heads in shame over “cigar” jokes or when defining what “is” is. We should shake our heads over “beer-summits” for photo-ops. We certainly should have a man in the office that knows that language matters and has enough command of it that he can make a point without being crude or brash. Leading a crowd in a chant that we will have Mexico build a wall for us is not the same kind of leadership exhibited by another revolutionary leader who boldly exclaimed, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

By the way, I think Mr. Trump DOES have a command of the language and chooses his words quite carefully. His intent IS to fire up the spirit within many Americans that we need substantive change in our country. He is stoking up a revolution and I do not necessarily disagree with the premise. He is appealing to the most base desires within the people…an appeal to the emotional catalyst within us. The fact that this approach works, IS AN INDICTMENT ON OUR CULTURE EVEN MORE SO THAN ON THE MAN CAPITALIZING ON IT.

In case you’re wondering if this means that I would not support Mr. Trump for President against Secretary Clinton or Senator Sanders…you’re wrong. That conversation will take place AFTER the primary season. For now I think we who are FED UP with the reckless behavior of politicians should look for a voice with the message who also exhibits the character that is necessary to represent our nation well. In my opinion, Mr. Trump is not that voice.

Now HERE is a link to the rally in case you think I am overstating the case. It is long but bears out the basis of my commentary. If you feel differently, I’d welcome your input.

Pastor’s Perspective…Why weddings are best celebrated within the church community

64-wedding-couple-file-clipartWeddings are full of symbolism! From the selection and role of the bridal party and the groomsmen, to the color of dress and cutting of the cake…everything has a symbolic meaning. Consideration is given to the color and style of the wedding dress, as well as to the wearing of “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.” During the service, you may have a unity candle, the lighting of the candles, private or corporate communion, the mixture of the sand (a Florida favorite), the seating of the mothers, giving of a rose to the moms at different points of the service, the wearing of the veil (or not), the tossing of the garter and bouquet, not to mention the cutting and sharing of the cake the decorating of the departure vehicle…and the list goes on. Everything has a symbolic meaning.

One of the symbols that is losing prominence in our culture is the conviction of having a “church wedding.” Now I know the church is not the building. I know that where two or three are gathered… I get all of that. At the same time, I also know the significance of choosing the church community whom you worship with to celebrate this most solemn of commitments…the marriage.

Often times the consideration behind the choice of venue is what would make great pictures…or what would be “cool.” The venue may be chosen because the couple are beachgoers and want to look out across the ocean at the potential of their love. Sometimes the choice of venue is about seating capacity or even economics. Should not the message of the primacy of the lordship of Christ and the value of the church community also be a major consideration?

The symbols of a wedding communicate. If a father doesn’t give the bride away…it says something. If the bride chooses a red dress rather than white…it says something. We may or may not DESIRE for these things to communicate a message, but they do. Doesn’t the “place” we choose to solemnize our vows also say something?

I am not certain that Christians have the right to trumpet the TRUTH that marriage is a holy and lifelong covenant between one man and one woman before a holy God…while at the same time failing to elevate the value of the covenant by choosing to have a wedding ceremony at a ballpark or the beach. Now if the couple doesn’t value the church and the Lord…if they are not Christ-followers…I get it! Skip the church! I probably would as well if I were not a Christian! Make great pictures on the beach or on the summit of a mountain or under a gorgeous waterfall in Hawaii. After all…your pictures are your longest lasting residual impact of the day in this case. You’ve no intention of invoking the blessing of God since you have never trusted Him as your Lord. Don’t confuse the symbolic nature of a church wedding!

For believers…if we truly value the institution of marriage as God’s design and we truly value the church community as God’s community…our people in a “foreign land,” why would we not want this most solemn of commitments to be made in the place where we worship our God weekly and among the people we share our life journey with? Remember, everything communicates a message. Make sure this one is the one you wanted to share.