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.

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.

No Losers, Only Victors

bama-clemson-picks

Photo Credit: cbssports.com

Now I will be honest…at first attempt, I struggled with this article. I didn’t struggle as much over the subject as I did the title. The reason is…I am adamantly opposed to a participation trophy culture that rewards every effort as success…even poor effort. I think that the psychology behind handing every kid a trophy for showing up SOFTENS a society and removes the seed of inner drive that propels people toward excellence.

At the same time…as we are less that 12 hours away for the CFP National Championship Game…I wrestle with the idea that one of the teams may be considered “losers” after the game. In my estimation, there can be no “losers” in the National Championship Game. Sure, someone is necessarily going to be crowned the champion because when the 60 minutes of game-clock expire, they will be recognized for having put the most points on the board; however, the other team is not a loser. They won repeatedly throughout the season and simply lost the final contest they appeared in. After all, they are still (I hope) the Crimson Tide of Alabama. They are still the “standard” in College Football to paraphrase Clemson’s head coach at the National Press Club event. 🙂

This is true of football (I believe), but it is also true of any other aspects of life. Marriage, for instance, is not defined by the last 5 minutes. It should be defined by the whole. A “buzzard” of a husband is not absolved of his shenanigans simply because he brought a bouquet of flowers three minutes ago. At the same time, 27 years of successful marriage should not be eclipsed by one failure in the past 5 minutes. The fact is…a man could be a good husband who failed recently and still be a good husband.

It is also true of the Christian faith. When we look at the Apostle Peter, do we focus on his sinking when he walked on water toward Jesus? Do we zero in on his denial of Christ in the courtyard the night before Jesus’ death? Do we define him by the moment he doubted Jesus when told to lower his nets? Not if we are wise! If we are wise, we look at the totality of life and evaluate Peter in light of everything…from beginning to end. We take into account the fact that he left everything to follow Jesus. We consider that while he sank while walking on water…he did get out of the boat and walk on water by faith! We hone in on the reality that the faulty faith of Peter at his denial was measured against the fantastic faith of Peter that preached at Pentecost. We consider that someone else ( Jesus) valued Peter…He called Him…He consecrated Him…He restored Him…He empowered Him. How could we call Peter a loser? We could not…if we understand the Christian life.

Perhaps you have been considering your last great failure. Perhaps you came up a few points short in the game, fumbled the last opportunity to avoid a temptation, or blew it in a relationship. You could listen to the voices that recall only your latest failure…or you could “strap up” and get back in the game for one more series, one more quarter, or one more season. As a Christ-follower, you are not a failure. You are not a loser; even when you miss the mark, you are not a loser. Even when the devil wins a round, you are not a loser.

Victory in Christ is measured by the totality, not the last event of your journey. So, “strap up” and get back in the game. There’s another season, another opportunity, and a lot of clock left in the real contest of life. Make your NEXT Series, your best series!

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…

 

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.

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