Friday, March 26, 2010


The downside to being the stimulator (my word for what is often referred to as "devil's advocate," although I hope I'm advocating for Someone else) is that people don't often know when I'm seriously presenting a case, just advocating another position to make them think it through, or just trying to be funny.

So, some of you have asked me what is it I actually think about HRC.

Do I really want to share this? I'm pretty opposed to blanket labeling, because everyone defines a label based on where they are on the scale. There's my friend Warren, who when we moved with 2 other guys into a house together 20 years ago, we spent the first night debating for hours whether or not the KJV was the only reliable English translation of the Bible. To him I've always been a liberal Christian. To my friend John, a newspaper editor, I was an ultra-conservative pastor. Both guys knew the same "me", they just labeled me based on where they were on the scale. That's why I hate labels, they say less about me and more about the person/group using them.

So this is a risk. I'm going to be labeling myself somewhat.

At heart, I believe I am a political and social conservative. Okay, everyone stop laughing! It's true. I believe that a small government is the best practice, that the best government is one that is exactly large enough to do what Romans 13 describes. I like free market capitalism. I am pro-life. I believe in individual responsibility.

I'm also a patriot. I think that US-style democracy is the best form of government invented by man. Actually, I'd be interested in an absolute monarchy if Jesus could be king, but beyond that, I like what we have here, albeit still in it's relative infancy compared to many other societies around the world. I would not easily want to live anywhere else in the world. Although I struggle with the value of war, I'm grateful for men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line for the sake of...well, of me. And my family. I tear up at the playing of Taps, and I get extemely irritated at those who do not respect the National Anthem and start cheering before it's over.

But I've also become passionate in recent years about the people often referred to as "marginalized." People who through little or no choice of their own have ended up in the wrong place. People dealing with oppression, injustice, unfairness, lack of access, poverty, disease, etc. Mostly because of the work and ministries I've gotten involved with over the past decade or so, I've been able to meet and get to know widows, orphans, immigrants, and more. I've been exposed to those who have been doing such ministry for years, and had the Holy Spirit illuminate how often the Scriptures talk about God's care and concern for "the least of these."

So here's my label for me: conflicted.

Which brings me back to healthcare reform. I'm very conflicted.

Do I worry about government interference on 26% of the economy? Absolutely I do. Do I think that most ideas coming out of Washington are produced by men and women who spend more time worrying about their reelection than they do the real problems in our world? Yes, I do. Do I wish that we lived in a world where the government didn't even consider this because the Church cared for all people in need? Definitely yes!

Am I glad that now health coverage will be guaranteed for people with pre-existing conditions? Absolutely I am. Do I think it is a good thing to ensure that insurance companies cannot drop someone's coverage because they get sick? Yes I do.

I could go on, but there you have it. I am both for and against HRC. I am both disgusted by it and excited about it.

Like virtually every human decision and invention in this world, it is shades of good and bad. I don't think it's armageddon, I don't think it's the end of the USA, and I don't think it solves all the problems. I don't even know that I think it's good. I'm pretty sure it's got plenty bad in it. I think it will help hundreds of thousands of people. And I know it's going to cost me money.

So call me conflicted. (Please don't call me worse, I don't want you to label yourself.)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My expectations for believers

Recently a friend asked me, in the context of my last post on my melancholy blues, what my expectations are from Christians, especially those who think that health care reform and other current items of interest are "morally and ethically wrong." Some of this will be rehash, but let me give it my best shot.

1. Humility. Every one of us has issues that we are on the wrong side about. That means me, that means you. Arrogant close-mindedness is not the same thing as conviction. And when an issue has many godly people on both sides of the argument, it demands even more humility than normal if that's possible. And even if you are right, a gentle humility is still required. See Galatians 6.1.

2. Honesty. In this category falls all the caricaturizing, demonizing and scandalizing of our ideological opponents. It would also include exaggerating for effect. Both liberal and conservative news outlets are guilty of this. If you're interested I'll create a list. See Matthew 5.21-22 on angry name-calling. As I said in my Caricature Debate post a few weeks back, argue the facts, but don't resort to shouting epithets, exaggerations, or outright lies. Don't trust a news source just because they are [fill in the blank here: Christian, conservative, progressive, liberal, etc].

3. Stop equating the US with "God's Covenant Nation" status, stop identifying Western democracy as the biblical form of government, and stop believing laissez-faire capitalism is a godly economic system. I could write a book on this, but I'll try not to. My friend said in her resopnse the world hates "Jesus Christ and His children and that's not going to change." There is much truth in that. The gospel is a stumbling block to many. The humility required to receive God's forgiveness is challenging. If we are hated or persecuted for the sake of Jesus we should count ourselves worthy (Matthew 5.11-12).

But suffering because of conservative politics is not suffering for the gospel. Being hated by "liberals" because you're a "conservative" is not suffering for Jesus.

4. Be passionate both about individual morality and systemic morality, and don't be hypocritical about either. I have not yet had the chance to research this, but recently read that the most common command in the Scriptures is "Don't be afraid" and the second most common is to be kind to aliens and strangers among you. My friend said this:

There should be a balance of speaking out equally what we are for and what we are against. God tells us through His Word what He is for and what He is against and we should be a reflection of that as a whole, not in part either way.

I could not agree more. I do not believe that God anywhere in the Scriptures states being for small government, capitalism, or whatever side we are on in a war. He does say he is opposed to immorality, especially among believers. He does say that he opposes systems that oppress the poor and marginalized who have no voice of their own. He does say that those who claim the name of Jesus should be marked by their love for one another. Again, there's a lot more to be said here.

5. Be peacemakers. As far as it is possible, be at peace with those around you. Pursue peace passionately. See 1 Peter 3.11, Matthew 5.9, James 3.18, 1 Timothy 2.2, Hebrews 12.14.

To summarize, the Lord requires of us to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6.8)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Melancholy blues

I have to admit, I was a little melancholy about last night's vote on health care reform. I am tired of the bickering and fighting, and quite frankly even now I'm concerned about the horrid...what's the word when a 10 year old starts acting like a 2 year old again? We're dredging up hatred and furor that hasn't been seen recently. I'm not naive enough to think it was gone, but I guess I was hopeful that it was progressing.

I guess I was wrong.

And I'm not even wishing that unbelievers could display love and compassion, although that would be nice. I am, however, ashamed at the actions of those who claim the name of Jesus in their lives.

So here I am, trying to therapeutically get some words out on the screen that will at least help me cope. I'm drawn as usual to the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, probably my favorite piece of Scripture.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God." Mt 5.9 ESV

Certainly not blessed are the hatemakers. Or the warmongers.

And not even the peacelovers.

But peacemakers.

Let's do that.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Absolute truth

One note on postmodernity and the idea of "no absolute truth." One of the hallmarks of postmodern philosophy is deconstruction. I think that deconstructing our worldviews can be a healthy exercise. Yes, many postmodern philosophers have gone too far, but that doesn't mean many modern Christians haven't gone far enough.

Here's my analogy, often used and probably not great, but I like it. The relationship between truth and "belief system" is similar as the relationship between great wine and a cup. The cup is important--tough to drink wine with just your hands. But the cup is important only in that it helps you hold the wine. Some cups are elaborate, some maybe even better than others. But the important thing is the wine.

Christians have often gotten confused, and equated their belief system with the truth. Science, slavery, equality of women, worship styles, clerical robes, liturgical languages--I could make a huge list of belief systems big and small that Christians have fought over. But much (most?) of these are not the truth, they are systems we have constructed to help us understand and communicate the truth. I've said many times, when I was 22, there were thousands of things I KNEW to be true. Now at 43, there are only a handful. That doesn't mean I still don't have strong convictions about things, only that I don't have to see my way as the true way of thinking about many issues.

The de-churched...

Check out this Skye Jethani post on "De-Churched Christians."

Most of the 3.5 of you who read this know that I personally would count myself within this group--the 2nd kind as Skye defines them--although as a family we still attend the more institutional version of church too (in fact Matt Chandler's church The Village, who Skye has a video of in this article). But it's a great discussion to have.

In some ways I fit into all 3 categories of authentically de-churched. Relationally I agree that most institutional churches today are really large gatherings of a bunch of churches in one place. Missionally, I'm amazed at what smaller, organic churches can do, like my friend Keith Giles' church in Orange County, which gives 100% of tithes and offerings to the poor. And finally I wholeheartedly agree that the best, deepest and truest transformation happens in groups of people who are relationally living life together, not by listening to great sermons or singing great music.

Balanced discussion of the "social justice" issue

Here's an article from Christianity Today summarizing some of the Jim Wallis/Glenn Beck fiasco.

It's nice to know that there are many things Al Mohler, Richard Land and I agree on. Mohler called Beck's comments "nonsense." They both agree that social justice is a right and good goal for believers, but that we will disagree on how to get there.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tough times

Here is an amazing article from Ralph Winter, a pastor in California. There are times when life is just plain stinky (I want to use another "s" word that is stinky, but I'll refrain). God, however, is good, just and loving. We can abandon ourselves to him, and he cares for us.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

What should offend Christians?

Recently an atheist group at UTSA in San Antonio conducted a "smut for smut" campaign, and traded pornography for Bibles or other religious literature. They admit it's a publicity stunt, and quite frankly it's kinda silly.

But when I read the article (find it here) I had a question pop into my head: what should offend believers? I think that this is an important question in our culture today. What should I find offensive? I'm not sure I have any definitive answers, but here's my first thoughts:

1. We need to remember that the gospel is inherently offensive to many of those enslaved by sin. It should not surprise us when others are offended. The Bible tells us it will be.

2. God is perfectly capable of defending himself. And the Bible. He does not need us in this regard. That's not to say he doesn't use us, cuz he does. But there seems to be a huge number of Christians who feel that if God or the Bible is attacked, it's time to "fight fire with fire."

3. Call me ungodly if you need to, but I just don't see how holding picket signs in protest--no matter how true their slogans--makes a dent in the power of sin on people's lives. When you hold up a sign saying that "Jesus loves atheists" it doesn't feel like demonstrating love to atheists, it feels like political protest. I'm pretty sure the atheist group didn't look out at the believers and think "man, those people love us."

So, I'm thinking that being offended over...

a. people being silly...
b. lost people acting like lost people...
c. people desperate for attention or looking for fame...
d. just about anything we disagree with... just not a good idea. One of the most amazingly attractive things about Jesus is that he never seem to get offended at people, especially at people's "junk." Their sin never surprised him, never made him stand, mouth agape, dumbstruck that someone would act that way. He knew people. He understood sin, even though he had none himself. He never had to hold up a "I love sinners but hate the sin" sign.

He just loved on people. He never compromised the truth. But he never seemed to feel he had to join anyone at their gamesmanship in order to confront them.

So I'm thinking, Christians, don't be offended so easily. Just a thought.