Give This A Listen

truth-seekers-logo-finalHey blog readers. I wanted to let you know I’ve added a new little conversation about faith online. It’s a podcast called “Truth Seekers Forum” hosted by Devin Kleffer, and features a conversation with two wanna-be-rock-stars who are now a pastor (me) and a theologian, Adam Nigh. Our podcast is open and honest dialogue about what Christians actually believe. We now have three episodes up. Give it a listen, see what you think and tell me if you like it. If you really like it – subscribe.


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You Gave Me Cash?

Yesterday morning my church gave me cash. To be exact, they gave me $30 as a reminder that I “didn’t just go to church. I am the church sent on a mission.” Sure I was a part of the decision-making process to give money back into the hands of the people, but I’m just like everyone else left trying to figure out wha5437288053_624c075aa3_bt I’m going to do with this trust. During worship we talked about using the money for some act of compassion or some attempt at righting some form of injustice. But it’s only $30! As fun as it is to experience my church entrusting money into my hands for sake of God’s purposes, it’s also perplexing. What am I going to do with this money!? Will I just check this little investment off my list as quickly and painlessly as I can, or will I put some thought and prayer into how I will use it to bless someone? Will I look at this money as such a little amount that it will barely make any difference, or will I look at it as a 5 loaves and 2 fish kind of thing where God can amaze me in how he will use this paltry $30 along with my heart and my hands to make a big difference for someone.

I guess we’ll find out. My family is going to pray about it and see where God points us to use this money that’s been entrusted to us.

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Time Is Harder To Give Than Money

A month ago, in my post Love In A Glass Box, I told the fun story of how the great people of Faith Community Church actually emptied their wallets into a plexiglass box as an experimental act of one way we could possibly offer our bodies “as living sacrifices” to God. It was really cool and really beautiful.

After it was over I was talking to my wife and I said, “If there was a way to empty our available time into a plexiglass box what do you think would happen?” Obviously there is no way of really knowdonate-timeing, but Aleta and I both had the same theory. As we talked about it, we arrived at the conclusion that as hard as it is give up what we call “our” money,  it’s actually much harder to give up “our” time. We live in such a harried, over-scheduled culture that time has now become the harder resource for us to give up. I honestly think that if I ran the same “living sacrifice” experiment where we could somehow put out a box that could contain our available time, the people of my church, and my own self, would give up far less of our time than we would give up of our cash. This Saturday morning our church body is going to help out at the Walnut Ave. Shelter that houses needy women and children. I think very highly of the people I serve, and so I am pretty sure a good many people will make the time to come out and help the moms and kids at the shelter. However, I am pretty sure that all of us will find giving up “our” time on Saturday morning will actually be harder than donating some money to the shelter. Weird – isn’t it?

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Is Anything What It Claims To Be?

Yesterday afternoon I took my youngest son Josh out for some “hang out time” with me during yesterday’s lovely Fall rainstorm. We had some Starbucks gift cards on hand so we went out for a delicious hot beverage during the downpour. Here’s the thing though. Josh ordered a chocolate chip frappacino and he give me a taste of it. I took one sip and before I could even say another word Josh said, “Tstarbucksastes like a milkshake doesn’t it?” Yes, in fact his drink was not coffee (which was a good thing considering he is an 8th grader). Josh’s drink was a coffee-ish flavored milkshake. Is a cup of coffee even a cup of coffee anymore? It made me wonder this morning during our election year, “Is a Republican a Republican anymore or a Democrat a Democrat? The political animals I see in 2016 don’t exactly resemble the Republicans or Democrats I recognized as public servants when I first started voting years ago.”

Change is an inevitable reality I guess, but the changes can make me long for the past as if my past was a place of security. But darn it! King Solomon tells me I shouldn’t even long for the past. In Ecclesiastes 7:10 he observes, “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.'” In the end, the one thing, and one person who will never change is my God. In Malachi 3: 6 God clearly states, “I the Lord do not change.” Even when my world, my coffee, my political representatives, my health or whatever changes – my God will not ever change.

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Silver Linings In Ugly Elections?

Clearly this has been an ugly, and getting uglier by the minute, election year. It bums me out that my own daughter’s first opportunity to cast her vote is probably the most polarized, and at times low-blow, even vulgar election I’ve ever witnessed in my half century of life. But here is what could be the silvervoting-1 lining. I know I’m going to be far more humble, slow, prayerful and thoughtful about my vote than I have been in quite some time, and perhaps that is what will happen for many. I hope this possibility could be the silver lining in this ugly election. With this in mind, I encourage you to read the following carefully worded editorial just released by Christianity Today. I think, editor-in-chief Andy Crouch speaks to us with great wisdom as we prepare to vote. No matter what emotions this editorial might spark within you, may the words lead you and me to the kind of careful consideration necessary every time we’re given the privilege of voting.

As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.

Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. We are especially not indifferent when the gospel is at stake. The gospel is of infinitely greater importance than any campaign, and one good summary of the gospel is, “Jesus is Lord.”

The true Lord of the world reigns even now, far above any earthly ruler. His kingdom is not of this world, but glimpses of its power and grace can be found all over the world. One day his kingdom, and his only, will be the standard by which all earthly kingdoms are judged, and following that judgment day, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, as his reign is fully realized in the renewal of all things.

The lordship of Christ places constraints on the way his followers involve themselves, or entangle themselves, with earthly rulers.

On the one hand, we pray for all rulers—and judging from the example of Old Testament exiles like Daniel and New Testament prisoners like Paul, we can even wholeheartedly pray for rulers who directly oppose our welfare. On the other hand, we recognize that all earthly governments partake, to a greater or lesser extent, in what the Bible calls idolatry: substituting the creation for the Creator and the earthly ruler for the true God.

No human being, including even the best rulers, is free of this temptation. But some rulers and regimes are especially outrageous in their God-substitution. After Augustus Caesar, the emperors of Rome became more and more elaborate in their claims of divinity with each generation—and more and more ineffective in their governance. Communism aimed not just to replace faith in anything that transcended the state, but to crush it. Such systems do not just dishonor God, they dishonor his image in persons, and in doing so they set themselves up for dramatic destruction. We can never collude when such idolatry becomes manifest, especially when it demands our public allegiance. Christians in every place and time must pray for the courage to stay standing when the alleged “voice of a god, not a man” commands us to kneel.

This year’s presidential election in the United States presents Christian voters with an especially difficult choice.

The Democratic nominee has pursued unaccountable power through secrecy—most evidently in the form of an email server designed to shield her communications while in public service, but also in lavishly compensated speeches, whose transcripts she refuses to release, to some of the most powerful representatives of the world system. She exemplifies the path to power preferred by the global technocratic elite—rooted in a rigorous control of one’s image and calculated disregard for norms that restrain less powerful actors. Such concentration of power, which is meant to shield the powerful from the vulnerability of accountability, actually creates far greater vulnerabilities, putting both the leader and the community in greater danger.

But because several of the Democratic candidate’s policy positions are so manifestly incompatible with Christian reverence for the lives of the most vulnerable, and because her party is so demonstrably hostile to expressions of traditional Christian faith, there is plenty of critique and criticism of the Democratic candidate from Christians, including evangelical Christians.

But not all evangelical Christians—in fact, alas, most evangelical Christians, judging by the polls—have shown the same critical judgment when it comes to the Republican nominee. True, when given a choice, primary voters who claimed evangelical faith largely chose other candidates. But since his nomination, Donald Trump has been able to count on “the evangelicals” (in his words) for a great deal of support.

This past week, the latest (though surely not last) revelations from Trump’s past have caused many evangelical leaders to reconsider. This is heartening, but it comes awfully late. What Trump is, everyone has known and has been able to see for decades, let alone the last few months. The revelations of the past week of his vile and crude boasting about sexual conquest—indeed, sexual assault—might have been shocking, but they should have surprised no one.

Indeed, there is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the “earthly nature” (“flesh” in the King James and the literal Greek) that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5). This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date. Idolatry, greed, and sexual immorality are intertwined in individual lives and whole societies. Sexuality is designed to be properly ordered within marriage, a relationship marked by covenant faithfulness and profound self-giving and sacrifice. To indulge in sexual immorality is to make oneself and one’s desires an idol. That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should have been clear to everyone.

And therefore it is completely consistent that Trump is an idolater in many other ways. He has given no evidence of humility or dependence on others, let alone on God his Maker and Judge. He wantonly celebrates strongmen and takes every opportunity to humiliate and demean the vulnerable. He shows no curiosity or capacity to learn. He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.

Some have compared Trump to King David, who himself committed adultery and murder. But David’s story began with a profound reliance on God who called him from the sheepfold to the kingship, and by the grace of God it did not end with his exploitation of Bathsheba and Uriah. There is no parallel in Trump’s much more protracted career of exploitation. The Lord sent his word by the prophet Nathan to denounce David’s actions—alas, many Christian leaders who could have spoken such prophetic confrontation to him personally have failed to do so. David quickly and deeply repented, leaving behind the astonishing and universally applicable lament of his own sin in Psalm 51—we have no sign that Trump ever in his life has expressed such humility. And the biblical narrative leaves no doubt that David’s sin had vast and terrible consequences for his own family dynasty and for his nation. The equivalent legacy of a Trump presidency is grievous to imagine

Most Christians who support Trump have done so with reluctant strategic calculation, largely based on the president’s power to appoint members of the Supreme Court. Important issues are indeed at stake, including the right of Christians and adherents of other religions to uphold their vision of sexual integrity and marriage even if they are in the cultural minority.

But there is a point at which strategy becomes its own form of idolatry—an attempt to manipulate the levers of history in favor of the causes we support. Strategy becomes idolatry, for ancient Israel and for us today, when we make alliances with those who seem to offer strength—the chariots of Egypt, the vassal kings of Rome—at the expense of our dependence on God who judges all nations, and in defiance of God’s manifest concern for the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed. Strategy becomes idolatry when we betray our deepest values in pursuit of earthly influence. And because such strategy requires capitulating to idols and princes and denying the true God, it ultimately always fails.

Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord. They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us—in hope, almost certainly a vain hope given his mendacity and record of betrayal, that his rule will save us.

The US political system has never been free of idolatry, and politics always requires compromise. Our country is flawed, but it is also resilient. And God is not only just, but also merciful, as he judges the nations. In these closing weeks before the election, all American Christians should repent, fast, and pray—no matter how we vote. And we should hold on to hope—not in a candidate, but in our Lord Jesus. We do not serve idols. We serve the living God. Even now he is ready to have mercy, on us and on all who are afraid. May his name be hallowed, his kingdom come, and his will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

I encourage you to share this editorial if you think it represents your heart and mind.

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Good Citizens Vs. Paranoid Tribes

In the aftermath of last night’s 2nd Presidential debate, I thought I would share some very human insights about how important it is for believers not to get stuck in the strong currents of polarization where we unknowingly join paranoid tribes (of any side) rather than serving as good, and godly, citizens. Donald Miller, in his book Scary Close, shares this eye-opening piece that is important for us to understand as we prepare to vote.

I’ve a friend who was attacked for more than a month by a well-known cable personality. My friend wrote a book encouraging Christians to work toward social justice and the talk-show host labeled him a socialist. He said my friend was one of the enemies of America and essentially made a lot of fearful people think my friend was the Antichrist. The talk-show host talked about him on the show for nearly a month, putting his name on his blackboard of enemies. Right in the heat of it my friend visited my home and talked about how little of what the talk-show host was saying was true and how much it was affecting his family . . .

And it’s not just the conservatives labeling people to stir up drama. Back when I was in DC . . . I found myself at a backyard barbecue on Capitol Hill. . . I ended up talking to a guy who didn’t know many people at the party either. He turned out to be a Democratic political stratrumpclinton_1458602175277_1097512_ver1-0tegist. He makes commercials for senators and gubernatorial candidates, essentially attacking their opponents. You’d think he’d be an arrogant, biting guy but he wasn’t. He was thoughtful and tender and even a little sorry about what he did for a living. Certainly he believed there was good in it all, but the more we talked, the more I recognized a sense of conviction about the tactics he employed.

“My job is to scare the hell out of senior citizens in southern Florida and convince them their medical benefits are going to be taken away,” he said. “Is that true? I asked. “Not really,” he said with a bit of regret in his eyes. “But that’s not the worst part,” he continued. “The worst part is what we all do to each other. When a campaign gets to the national level, it gets ruthless. On both sides. You would think these candidates are big enough to take it, but nobody can take it. Every day on a television somewhere, you’re being lied about. Your character is being assassinated. People turn and walk away from you at the grocery store. They pull their kids close. I’ve seen very powerful men reduced to tears. I’ve seen it happen with my candidates, and I’m sorry to say I’ve done it to others.” . . . The most frightening thing he said to me was this: “You’d be surprised at how easy it is to convince the American people that a perfectly good man is a demon.” I’ll add this to the mix too: I believe God is a fan of people connecting and I think the enemy of God is a fan of people breaking off into paranoid tribes.

Please, let’s all be very humble, very prayerful and very wise as we vote this November 8

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Let Me Grab Your Attention

You know what’s funny? My blog says that it’s “a conversation at the intersection between God and the human experience.” Today I just watched this very sad video of two hyper-huge YouTube stars who got married and are not getting a divorce and sharing their very private pain all too publicly in separate videos. Let me say Tattentionmarketing_crop380wMI! At the same time, I’ve been noticing which of my blog posts
get bigger readership and which ones don’t. To put it plainly, when I tell a story about someone stealing my plywood at Home Depot it gets a lot of readers, but when I write something that’s theological or something deep about God, my readership plummets back to about 10 people. Isn’t that interesting?

What’s even more interesting is that this raw blog-data could lead me to decide that I need more readers more than I need to write what I feel led to write. I could write to grab attention rather than write to process my own “intersection between God and the human experience.” That could lead me to have come up with funnier stories, crazier stories and maybe even stories that aren’t all that true just to get more readers. It could lead me into territory I saw in the tortured YouTube star I saw baring her soul to her audience.

I made a promise to myself when I began writing this blog. I said to myself, “I will write as a way to be honest and way to describe my own journey through life with a God who possesses great humor, compassion and grace. I will not cease to write if no one reads. I will not write what gets me the most readers.” That’s what I decided to do and still choose to do, but I’ll admit it’s still a temptation to grab more attention!

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