red solo, er, starbucks cup

ok, seriously?  jeff foxworthy once said, "it's not that southerners are dumb, it's just that we can't keep the most ignorant amongst us off the tv."  i'm beginning to feel the same way about those who profess to follow CHRIST.  one of my seminary professors said that few things are as dangerous as a CHRIST-follower with too much zeal but too little education.  that was before the advent of facebook, and so now you factor in the zealous undereducated CHRIST-follower with a bullhorn the size of the world, and every little cause that over-privileged westerners feel is somehow attacking their faith draws a huge bullseye and the news media has a field day with the flaming arrows fired at it.

the latest target is the red starbucks cup.  for those of you that missed it, lift up your rock and listen up and i will fill you in on the situation.  apparently starbucks decided this year to try to be as accommodating as possible and to not isolate any particular people group and made their cups red.  no trees, no snowmen, no manger scenes, no stars, just red.  like a paper red solo cup, holding a beverage that costs just as much as anything you'll buy in the bar, but without the negative redneck stereotypes that go along with it.  make that cup plastic, with some ridges, and not only will you get a super hot hand from holding it, but you will instantly start to grow a hipster mullet the minute you sip out of it.  but i digress.

now, you think this would make everyone happy:  those who don't celebrate CHRISTmas won't have any religious pictures staring judgmentally at them as they sip their coffee (never mind the fact that the color red at CHRISTmas traditionally represents the blood of CHRIST,) those who do celebrate in some form or fashion still gets the festive red color, and those who feel that society has secularized the holiday don't have to be mocked by secular images stealing their joy in their religion.  however, we have learned that this is not the case.  a group of CHRIST-followers are upset because they say that starbucks "hates Jesus" and the plain red cup is one more step in removing CHRIST from CHRISTmas.  sure, starbucks has made some statements disparaging towards those of a conservative ilk, but i fail to see the problem with the plain red cup.  i know that many have already taken to the blogosphere to address this topic, but allow me to elaborate on why i don't see the problem with the hipster version of the red solo cup.

first off, starbucks is a business, a business that caters to people all over the world of every faith and every culture.  believe me, i have been all over the world and have rarely been anywhere i couldn't find a starbucks.  it would make sense that a business of this sort would seek to be welcoming to all patrons who choose to seer their tastebuds with their burnt coffee.  if anything, i, as a CHRIST-follower, am less offended by a business choosing to be neutral rather than trying to quasi-embrace a farcical version of a holiday that they don't really believe in for the purpose of increasing sales.  so i say, "bravo you hipneck-serving, barista army!  great marketing strategy!"

secondly, i find the hypocrisy in a CHRIST-follower who chooses to deride an organization committed to making money for attacking the holiday that they claim to hold in highest regard, out of some sort of pseudo-observation of the Saviour's birthday for which it was created, to be sadly hilarious.  let's be honest, when is the last time that you celebrated your dad's birthday by buying a present for your brother, a present bought not for the purpose of meeting a critical need, but just to say "happy birthday dad, so here's a present brother"?  i personally think that if we truly wanted to take the holiday to focus solely on CHRIST, we would take our money that we blow on presents for others that they don't need, and do as CHRIST compelled and feed the hungry and care for the homeless (and don't give me the garbage on how we are honoring CHRIST by mimicking the giving of gifts by the wise men, blah, blah, blahbity, blah, blah.)  however, i do not begrudge the celebration of both the secular and religious elements of the holiday, as we all do every year with lights and trees, alongside church services and CHRISTmas carols.  but, don't have the audacity to mock a secular organization for not holding your particular holiday in as high of regard as you do (as you sip your $6 coffee that you could have enjoyed at home in your keurig for .50 and then donated the other $5.50 to provide a meal for a homeless family, but again i digress.)  we don't get outraged at the lion for killing other animals and not being a harmless vegetarian like a giraffe, so why do we get outraged at a secular society for not being CHRISTian?

you want a reason to not drink a mucho grandioso ventricle mocha macchiato latte for a small fortune at your local starbucks?  how about their coffee tastes horrible so they have to hide its taste with copious amounts of cream, sugar, and artificial flavors?  or how about how overpriced it is, and how you can buy a cheaper and better cup of coffee, and use the money you save for a house payment?  or better yet, you can go to dunkin donuts and get a good coffee for cheaper, along with donuts!  donuts, people!  that's reason enough there!  no donuts at the starbucks.  just some fru-fru crumble cakes soggy from being microwaved out of frozen frigidity and maybe some sort of gourmet chocolate.  so don't go there, but stop blaming a cup for it, and worry about your own relationship with CHRIST and how it is being viewed by others and what kind of witness you are presenting.  

*****update:  it appears that warbucks, er, starbucks is not as "anti-Jesus" as the internet trolls claim.  upon a visit to one of their stores, you can find not only the "merry CHRIST-mas" blend of their coffee, but an actual advent calendar to count down the days till CHRIST-mas.  so could it be that this was all cooked up by a guy that either a)didn't have all the facts and was therefore making an uninformed, and consequentially ignorant, knee-jerk reaction? or b)just thought of a way to get millions of blog hits to his blog? or c)some combination of both?  i wager the latter, but decide for yourself.  either way, it further behooves each of us to research and make sure that what we are sharing and propagating to others is, in fact, valid, and doesn't make us look as dumb as the person who posted it in the first place.  (that includes this blog.  my bride will tell you that i sometimes ramble, and sometimes am even *gasp* wrong!  test the spirits!)


just breathe...

okay, now that the shock of the news has passed, and Jesus hasn't come back to rescue all of us, we need to stop and assess the damage.  after a firefight ends in a war, the troops take time to assess the damage on both sides, and there is damage to both sides.  i witnessed some of the most reprehensible behaviour on both sides yesterday that i have seen on disgracebook in a long time.  while it was to be expected that the side benefited by the ruling would do some celebrating, there was indeed some that went beyond celebration into the taunting realm.  that doesn't bother me much.  again, why should i expect people who don't live by the principles of Scripture that i do, to live by them in that instance?  however, what did disturb me was the professing CHRIST-followers who engaged in disgusting behaviour, that in reading it, made me frankly concerned.  there was very little conversation from many that could in any way be construed as love.  oh, sure, there are some that will say, "well, it's not loving to ignore sin!"  this is true, but it's in the way it was put out.  people resorted to name calling, childish insults, and even things that can be construed as hate.  what they failed to realize, is that we are all sinners, equal in our position before almighty God.  there are many on there that i know for a fact engaged in premarital sex that used words like "abomination," "disgusting," "gross," etc.  there were those that have engaged in adultery that were hurling stones as if they had no sin.  but Scripture plainly teaches that sexual sin is sexual sin, and all are equal before God in their consequences.  guess what?  homosexuality is no bigger sin than lying.  it's not even a bigger sin than the insults they hurled at others, negating the call to love one another and to treat others like you want to be treated.  sure, the consequences may be different, since sexual sin is the sin that affects the body in the physical, emotional, and spiritual sense, but sin is sin.  doesn't matter what it is. 

so what now?  as a hospital chaplain, i would always be called to a room whenever a patient was about to be given a bad prognosis by the doctor, and then afterward i would stay behind to help the family through it.  i will give you the same advice i gave those who were believers.  okay, stop.  let's breathe in, and breathe out.  yes, this is a blow.  but the world hasn't ended yet, and we still have a long road ahead of us.  it's not going to be a pleasant road, and at times it will be downright scary.  right now, we are trying to make sense of it, and the shock is clouding our judgment, and emotions are distorting our view ahead.  this is the time that our faith meets the road.  we can say we trust God all we want, but it's in times like this that trust is put to the test.  do you really still believe that God is in control?  is He still on His throne?  or did this unseat Him in your life?  if so, you have bigger problems.  but God is still in control, and is still on His throne.  this didn't surprise Him, nor is it the worst thing that could have happened.  the last i checked, we weren't being rounded up for the coliseums yet to be fed to lions.  nobody is sharpening swords to cut our heads off (which is a real problem for some of our brethren.)  but now is the time to face the realities that potentially lay ahead of us, because nobody knows the future and all we can do at this point is speculate.  but we do know this, our country, and life, as we know it has changed.  we have enjoyed a very fruitful time of peace in our country in terms of our faith, which it seems is coming to an end.  we are not the first CHRIST-followers to go through it, nor will we be the last.  the prophecies of our Saviour are coming true.  we will be hated for His Name's sake.  we are aliens in a strange land, and our complacency has caused us to forget that.  so whether we are fined, jailed, or our churches closed, the church will endure.  another prophecy CHRIST made was that once He built His Church, the gates of hell would not prevail against her.  i am worried, yes, but i am also excited.  the times that the church grew the most was in the times of the most intense persecution.  so what do we do?

we get up in the morning, take a deep breath in, let it out, and continue to breathe in and out all day.  we go to our houses of worship, not to retreat, but to recharge, to regroup.  we resolve to not answer hate with hate, but to love those around us.  Jesus spent time with the sinners and publicans.  why?  because they were the ones that needed the Physician.  the people He had the power to condemn, He didn't.  He would lovingly stand firm on God's commands, and would call people out of their sin.  the people He got the most upset and vocal with were the religious people.  there was a reason people flocked to Him.  sure, part of it was the miracles, but it was because He loved them and was approachable.  in the aftermath of the charleston tragedy, we saw how CHRIST-followers should act.  we need to take heed.  i resolve to be that voice crying in the wilderness, not to run from the wilderness to comfort.  it is perfectly fine to engage in discussion over this topic, but do so in a CHRIST-like manner.  if you can't do it without resorting to vitriol and childish tantrums, stay silent and pray.  let them be the ones to curse you, and pray for them.  be kind to your enemies, for in doing so you will heap burning coals on their head.

there are those CHRIST-followers, who, in a sense of solidarity, have chosen to celebrate with them.  i do not recommend that, whether it be updating your profile picture to the rainbow, or congratulating those who will now get a governmental license.  we are called to come out from among them and be separate.  so while we should not condemn, we should not go so far as to condone.  you can disagree with someone on any topic and be respectful and kind.  kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and now would be the time to go back and refresh ourselves on what those are:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  after all, against these, there is no law!

make no mistake, we are engaged in a battle, but it is not a battle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.  the enemy wants us to despair, wants us to hate, wants us to destroy our witness.  our strategy needs to be to draw closer to our Champion, the One who has the power to defeat the enemy.  in doing that, we will become more like Him, and with His power, we have the victory.  the battle is lost.  the war is not over, and won't be until CHRIST returns like an atom bomb.  there is still a lot of fighting to do.  so suit up!  do not despair!  we know the final outcome!  let's show the world that we have Someone inside of us that is greater than what they have to offer!  that's how we will win the upcoming battles!    


how about a little fire, scarecrow?

in the days since the charleston murders, we have seen politicians do what they do best:  push agendas.  it started from the early hours following the shooting when the president began his renewed focus on gun control in his speech.  as the news developed, it became apparent that the killer was a white racist who committed the killings for racist reasons.  the race baiters barely were able to get their rhetoric spun up when they were shut down by the reactions of charleston's citizens, who instead of reacting with ignorant violence like we saw in ferguson and baltimore, instead came together not as different races or different religions, but as fellow human beings finding solidarity in the loss of nine of their own.  well, this would not do.  the public's tiredness over the issue of gun control quickly led to the topic fading back into the political quagmire from which it rose.  now, in an effort to find some sort of blame, we see the politicians going after a flag.  the absurdity of this focal point is actually quite laughable, as if the flag was what caused the terrorist to become a racist killer.  what is the end game of these attacks?

in debate, there are various techniques used to avoid answering a question.  we will see many of these being employed in the coming months as the presidential race heats up.  one such method is called the straw man defense.  the premise behind this technique is that when a person is asked a question that they are a) not prepared to answer or b) do not want to answer, so they set up a "straw man" to attack to divert the attention away from the original question.  it is essentially setting up a decoy because it is easier.  in the aftermath of a senseless tragedy such as this, people want answers.  they need to know why, because the idea of taking a life in cold blood is so horrific that people scramble to try and make sense of it, to understand it.  these desperate attempts to come to terms with what has happened are due to a need to maintain control.  whenever something happens that challenges our sense of control we try to rein it in and put it in a nice, neat, orderly explanation box so that we can say, "this is why."  it is a natural reaction to an unnatural event.  but then it happens again and our sense of order is upended and we start looking for other culprits to explain it away.  the answer is there, but we don't want to face it as a society.  politicians sure don't want to face it, because much of it lands in their laps, and thus the scarecrows began being set up and torched.

we have seen the straw men of racism, guns, flags, mental illness, and a plethora of other scarecrows burned in the past few days.  so in order to fully understand what happened, we have to get to the root cause.  trying to solve the problem by sensitivity training, gun control, symbol destruction, and medication are like putting band-aids over skin cancer.  they may cover up the problem temporarily, but the cancer is still spreading and the person will end up dying unless something changes.  in order to save the victim, you have to address the root cause, which is the cancer that is destroying their body from the inside.  so what is the root cause?  it is the same cause that has been present throughout history.  

think back before columbine.  the idea of someone shooting up a school was not given a second thought.  the worst thing we had to worry about was getting beat up by somebody because you stole their girlfriend or talked trash to them.  the concept of mass shootings, outside of mob or gang activity, is a relatively new one.  people want to blame the guns, but guns have been around for hundreds of years, and repeating guns that hold more than one round have been around for over a hundred.  racism has been around since biblical times, and will always be with us.  it's unfortunate, but it's the truth.  no matter how much sensitivity training and race relations the government forces upon people, there are those that are going to judge someone because of the color of their skin.  there have been mentally ill people around since the beginning of time, although the diagnoses have recently become more specific.  but even without all of the mind-altering drugs we have available today, you didn't see them committing these atrocities.  so why the shift?  it is simple, as the best answer is usually the simplest.

the problem is we have lost our value of human life.  every evil committed against others can be traced back to not valuing their life.  in order to commit harm to another person, you have to first stop seeing them as a life that has value.  this process is usually a gradual one.  children aren't born racists, and aren't born killers.  it is something that happens over time.  and western society didn't get here overnight.  it was a gradual process.  first was the distortion of Scripture, or its complete removal from the equation.  see, when people view God as a loving creator, giving humans value because of His personal touch in creating them, then it causes us to see others as God sees them.  in order to do that, however, we have to see all lives as valuable to God.  early slave owners used Scripture out of context or ignored it altogether to justify their enslaving others.  they began by dehumanizing them, viewing them as animals.  this abominable practice continued all the way through the civil rights movement and can still be found today.  whenever you dehumanize someone, it makes it easier to cause them harm.  soldiers have done it throughout our history.  they refer to the enemy as japs, krauts, gooks, zipperheads, skinnies, hajiis, ragheads, etc.  the introduction of evolutionary teaching, which initially taught a hierarchy of races based upon their proximity to apes in the evolutionary process, only furthered this dehumanization.  humans were no longer seen as specially created by God, but just a higher form of evolved animal.  when we lose a Scriptural view of life, it makes it easier to forget or ignore the value that God places upon life.

step two in the devaluing of life in society came when roe vs. wade allowed the practice of abortion.  society began to no longer view life as valuable from conception, but only after birth.  this has morphed into the more modern practices of partial birth abortions, and have even culminated in those saying that a baby is not even a person at birth, but only after a few weeks or months have passed.  some even go so far as to say that a baby is not a person until after a year of age.  this devaluing of human life is now taught in schools by the murderous planned parenthood organization, which was founded by a racist as a way of culling the black population.

step three in the devaluing of life was the shift in entertainment.  in television and movies, violence has gotten more graphic and gory, now including scenes of children being killed.  video games such as grand theft auto glorify killing of innocents.  in the 1980s, gangster rap began to become popularized, with violent images being portrayed in the songs.  all of this bombardment of violence leads to a desensitization towards murder, which unfortunately is primarily aged at our children and teenagers.  they are told from a young age that life has no value, in both teaching and actions, so it is no surprise that they are so quick to turn to violence.  we are no longer allowed to teach the principles of Scripture on the value of life, and we are witnessing the disastrous results of that shortfall.

you see, you can take guns away, but people will still find ways to kill, even if it is with their bare hands.  when my bride and i worked at a children's home for at-risk kids, there were times we had to take away pencils from kids because they threatened to use them as a weapon.  so removing guns is not the answer.  you can take down flags from public view, but it won't stop people from being racist.  if anything, it will only further their hatred for other races.  you can medicate mentally ill people, but even the drugs that are used to treat many of these symptoms have side effects that are just as bad if not worse than the symptoms they are meant to treat.  and if that person runs out of that med, the withdrawal symptoms can quickly turn a person into a monster.

the answer comes from teaching a Scriptural view of the value of life, and in order to do that, we as CHRIST-followers have to show the world that what we have is worth entertaining.  an atheist in charleston said that what he saw in the days after the shooting gave him a compelling case for CHRISTianity.  unfortunately, this world may be past the point of no return, and unless there is a drastic shift back to biblical values, things are only going to get worse, and no amount of gun control or training is going to fix it.  



harry houdinis of the CHRISTian world

you put a group of seminarians in a room, and ask them about end times theology (also known as eschatology) and you will likely get multiple views, with varying degrees within those views.  in the 1990s, a group of books by tim lahaye and jerry b. jenkins called the "left behind" series popularized the theology of premillenial dispensationalism, also known as the "pre-trib" view, which states that there will be a rapture, a mass disappearance event, where CHRIST-followers will be taken out of this earth in an instant to meet CHRIST in the air prior to the great tribulation, a seven-year period of turmoil on the earth in which the anti-CHRIST rises to power and various plagues and natural disasters befall the earth.  this is view-point is one that was popular in the first centuries of the early church, but lost popularity during the turbulent middle ages, and has recently resurfaced in the church.  it is now one of the most popular among the differing eschatology schemes, but is actually one of many, including those that hold to a mid-tribulation rapture, post-tribulation rapture, or even no rapture at all.  there are also differing views on the millenial reign of CHRIST, as to when it happens, or if it happens at all.  in terms of personal eschatology, meaning what happens when we die, the majority of CHRISTendom holds to an immediate departure of the soul which then goes to a place of paradise, sometimes called heaven or abraham's bosom, or a place of torment, usually referred to as hell or hades.  granted, there are some CHRIST-followers that hold to an annhilationist point of view, which teaches that those souls who did not follow CHRIST will be destroyed in an instant and never see eternal torment, or a universalist view, which says that all will be redeemed.  these are not as popular as the heaven/hell views, but there is very little debate over the existence of heaven.

in light of the recent tragedy in charleston, in which nine church-goers were senselessly gunned down by a racist maniac, along with the increasingly degradation of society, i see many CHRIST-followers making statements that reflect a sense of spiritual escapism.  statements of "Jesus needs to hurry up and come back," or "I'll be glad when I get to heaven and don't have to worry about this anymore," are increasingly common.  a study of church history will show you that this viewpoint was popular in the early church as well, with CHRIST-followers staying in jerusalem after CHRIST's ascension, expecting His return during their lifetime.  it wasn't until persecution fell upon the church that we see the CHRIST-followers scattered and the gospel spread throughout the known world at the time.

while we do have the hope of heaven, whether that comes when we die, or in a rapture, it is not the reason CHRIST saved us.  and the "pie in the sky, by and by" theology that we get from our hymns can cause us to lose our focus and forget that we are on mission here.  it can also cause us to despair as we watch society grow more and more decadent around us, and we fall prey to the fear-mongers that infest the media.  when we look at Scripture, it is obvious that we are not to hold to this viewpoint.  we see the first instance when the disciples are standing on the mount after Jesus' ascension, and they are asked, "why do you stand here looking up in the sky?"  we also see repeated admonishments about not to go looking or listening to others about the return of CHRIST, when even CHRIST said that only the Father knows when He will return.  yet, every time you turn around, you have some preacher trying to "interpret the signs" and saying that CHRIST's return is imminent.  the fact is that every generation since the time of CHRIST has felt that theirs was the last and that CHRIST would return in their lifetime.  they all had their anti-CHRISTs as well.  for the early church, they interpreted the events of Revelation as talking about the roman empire, and nero was the anti-CHRIST.  the middle ages were particularly desolate, with suffering abound and brutal kings that twisted the church into their own tool for enslaving the people with dogma.  there were predictions that hitler was the anti-CHRIST, and the decadence of the 1920s led people to believe that they were living in the end times.  the fact is, nobody knows when it will be, and if they do, Scripture has some strong things to say about them, including labeling them false-prophets.  if we get down to it, we can all point to fulfilled prophecies in Scripture, and we should remain ready at any time for CHRIST's return.

however, remaining ready is very different from focusing on it.  there are those that lose all hope in this life and are so focused on the next that they lose the mission focus.  as someone once said, they are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.  as CHRIST-followers, we need to re-examine what Scripture says about salvation and the purpose of it.  CHRIST's salvation was not for the purpose of granting us a golden ticket into heaven.  if that is our view, then we have missed out on the bigger picture and consequently the blessing that CHRIST has for us.  salvation is for the purpose of redeeming us to CHRIST, transforming us into new creations, removing our enmity with God, for the express purpose of restoring fellowship with God.  that is the purpose of salvation:  so that we could have a relationship with CHRIST and experience the kingdom of God here on earth!  that is what empowers us to go out and share CHRIST with people.  but CHRIST-followers today have become cowards, looking at the earth around us and begging God for an escape in the form of heaven or rapture.  we have become the antithesis of "fear not, for I have overcome the world."  we fear persecution.  we fear the sinful society.  we fear those that can "kill the body."  we are not overcoming as we were commanded.  and then we wonder why people are leaving the church.  there is no power in the message we preach anymore, because we've dropped our God-given armor and turned tail and ran.  we spend so much time trying to justify our existence to a world that sees the preaching of the cross as foolishness, that we have become argumentative and we lash out like a cornered dog, frightened with our only hope being aggression to scare off our attackers.

Jesus promised us persecution.  He promised us we would be hated for His Name's sake.  He promised us trials and tribulation, and even called us to count it a blessing when we experienced it.  when paul was writing the letter to the church at philippi, he was writing from a hole in a cave with an iron grate over it as a prisoner of the roman empire awaiting trial.  it was there that he wrote "i can do all things through CHRIST," and "my God will meet all your needs."  today, we would be crying out to God to save us instead of using our situation to show others His joy and His love.  i say that as thousands in charleston have chosen to turn this tragedy into an opportunity to show the world that we are not frightened and will not give in to hate when someone attacks us but will overcome and respond with love and hope.  so perhaps we will see a turnaround.  the times that the church has grown the most is during times of the most intense persecution, and the times it has declined is during times of acceptance.  so instead of adopting an escapist mentality when facing the enmity of the world, we should look it in the face and say, "bring it on, because He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world."  we are soldiers, behind enemy lines, and we can either give up and become a prisoner of the enemy, or we can claim the victory that has already been won on our behalf, and continue to fight.  


tolerance or hate?

there have been a lot of changes in society in the last decade, and one of the biggest changes is the new religion of tolerance.  i call it a religion, because like religion, people live and die by it, it is exclusive, and its supporters preach it with the fervor of a street corner evangelist with a sandwich board and a microphone.  the ironic thing about the tolerance crowd is that they are usually the antithesis of what they teach and preach, because they are rarely tolerant of any idea that is not theirs.  spend any amount of time on social media or reading the comments section of a news article, and you will witness it first-hand. 

in order to understand tolerance, you have to first look at the definition.  tolerance defined, is simply tolerating something.  so when you look at the definition of tolerate, you find that it means to "allow without interference."  to dig even further, interfere means to "prevent from continuing," or to "become involved in the activities of others when your involvement is not wanted."  america is the land of the free, and we have embraced the law of thelema, the manifesto of magician and occultist aleister crowley, which states, "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.  love is the law..."  notice the contradiction in that statement?  on the surface it seems like a good concept, tolerance, which is why people have embraced it.  however, when you dig deeper below the surface of the concept of tolerance, you discover that instead of an expression of love and acceptance, used wrongly it can be a statement of passive hate, especially for the follower of CHRIST.

there are many things we can tolerate in life.  i tolerate people listening to country music although i personally can't stand it.  people tolerate differing tastes in clothing, food, music, cars, this blog, etc., with no harm to anyone.  nobody questions these expressions of tolerance.  it is what makes us a great nation.  there are countries that imprison musicians and bloggers for making statements against the government.  so for us to have the freedom to write something that people may not like is a good thing, and a perfect example of tolerance used correctly.  but tolerance is not an expression of love, as many would like to claim.  you can tolerate someone or their behavior without loving them.  as long as the person is not engaging in behavior that is harmful to themselves or others, tolerance is simply agreeing to disagree.

tolerance becomes passive hate whenever you see someone about to cause harm to themselves or others, and you stand by and do nothing.  for the CHRIST-follower, the implications of this are serious.  we are called to love others as CHRIST loves them, and sometimes that means risking offending them.  if you truly love someone, you want the best for them, and when you see someone going down a path that is harmful, love calls you to step forward and speak up.  people like to say that CHRIST accepted people as they were, which is true, but if you pay attention to the rest of the story, you see that He never left anyone where they were, but called them to repentance.  sure, anyone could come to Him, and He regularly ate and hung out with sinners, but notice that Scripture nowhere says that all of those sinners followed Him.  some chose to turn on Him and called for His crucifixion.  people loved His message of love and acceptance until they realized what that love meant, and that love would not allow them to continue in their sin.  it is the same way today.  people are all about the hippie Jesus, the one that preached meekness and love.  when you bring up the righteous, conquering CHRIST in Revelation, as He stands in judgment, people cry "foul."

penn jillette, of the famous magical duo "penn and teller," once read the Bible and even said on his video blog that he hoped that CHRISTians would tell him about Jesus, because if you truly believed that people who died without CHRIST went to a literal hell, then to not tell a sinner about CHRIST out of fear of offending them is essentially saying that you didn't love them.  to let people die and go to hell without telling them about CHRIST, is essentially saying that you hate them.  tolerating sin, especially sin that is harmful to that person or others, is passively saying that you hate them.

i love my sons, and i would do anything for them, including not tolerating their behavior when it has the potential to be harmful to them.  there are many parents that i know that let their kids talk to them however they want, act however they want, and do whatever they want.  those parents do that out of some misguided concept of love, embracing this culture of tolerance to their own kids' detriment.  i'm thankful every day that my parents loved me enough to get in the way of my destructive decisions.  some call it tough love, but it is love all the same.   

the caveat of all of this is that if you truly love someone enough to not tolerate their behavior, that same love has to be manifested in the prevention of that behavior.  the reason that society has embraced this culture of tolerance is the hateful manner in which people disagreed with others.  professing CHRISTians are some of the worst when it comes to this.  we put ourselves on the throne and claim the title of judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to the sins of others.  we like to quote John 3:16, but ignore 17, which says that CHRIST did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.  if we are to emulate CHRIST in our dealings with others, condemnation should not be a trait we ever manifest.  our calling others to repentance should always come out of love and concern because we know where the path that they are on leads.  one phrase i personally despise is the phrase, "go to hell!"  to me, there is no stronger expression of hate than that.

there are many things we can tolerate, but sin should never be one.  that includes within the church.  paul addressed this in his first letter to the church at corinth when he called them out on the sins that they were allowing to continue.  we have grown so tolerant of sin within the church that we now have churches that celebrate sin and embrace it.  that only makes the churches that stand on biblical principles look that much more hateful when we refuse to accept those sins within our congregations.  perhaps if we started showing others intolerance filled with love and prayer, we might see a change in how people perceive us.  either way, the reality is that CHRIST promised us we would be hated for His name's sake.  mankind is rebellious by nature, and does not like to be told that they are wrong.  so be intolerant of sin, and prepared to be labeled as "intolerant," but know in your heart that it is truly love.  do not buy into society's view of tolerance and love, a view which is truly neither.    


basic instructions before leaving earth

few things are as simple and complex at the same time as the Bible.  it is a truly unique book.  it has been translated into more languages than any other book.  it can be used to wield power, and to destroy it; it can lead governments, or overthrow them.  it has been used throughout history to control people, and to liberate them.  one person can read Scripture and be challenged to make radical changes in their life, while another can read it and be encouraged in the current path that they are in.  a book this powerful is akin to electricity:  when used properly, it can bring benefit to countless people, but when used carelessly, it can cause considerable harm. 

in the book of 2 Timothy, paul instructs us to "study" Scripture.  he says that it is good for a variety of things, such as correction, for rebuking, and for instructing in righteousness.  this is an important command, for a major problem among those who profess and even teach and preach CHRISTianity is that they do not know Scripture; they do not know what it says or what it means.  misquoting Scripture and misinterpreting Scripture have led to heresies infecting the church like a cancer throughout history.  what is interesting, is that martyrs gave their lives to translate Scripture into the popular language of the people so that we could read Scripture for ourselves and not be led astray because of ignorance of Scripture.  and recently, with the advent of the internet and the wide availability of studying resources, we are truly without excuse.

many modern day churches have twisted Scripture by taking verses out of context, piecing them together to create a frankenstein CHRISTianity that is not only unbiblical, but downright dangerous.  this is what paul was talking about when he said that men would not endure sound doctrine, but would gather teachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear.  the sad thing is that people are so ignorant of Scripture and what it actually teaches, that they buy into these lies hook, line and sinker.  many of these teachers actually think that they are right, and are not leading others astray out of malice, but out of ignorance.  this problem is due to two primary reasons:  people don't read the Bible and people don't study the Bible.

in order to know the Bible we must first read it.  that means we actually have to get it out and read it, not just when we are trying to find a verse to prove a point or when we are in church.  as part of that reading, memorization should also be priority.  the psalmist said that he had hidden God's Word in his heart.  there have been stories of prisoners who have written whole books of the Bible from memory on the walls of their cells because they were not allowed to have a Bible.  in Jesus' time, a child was expected to have the first five books of Scripture memorized by the time they were ten, and then the rest of the old testament memorized by age twelve!  today, we have multiple Bibles in our homes, and never open them.  if we truly believed the Bible was God's Word, then we, who claim to love and follow Him and seek His will, would logically want to read His Word to find out what He had to say.

however, we must go beyond simply reading the Bible.  that's the purpose of the word "study."  as stated before, Scripture is no mere novel that you can simply read at face value.  we need to look at things such as language, context, history, author, audience, other passages, and then derive application by pairing it with prayer.  take for example the phrase, "his palms were sweaty, his heart raced, and he held his breath as he lined up his shot."  now, just for a moment, think about what that phrase means.  you are automatically going to interpret it from your point of view.  some of you may be thinking that it is a basketball player at a free throw line, while others are thinking it's a hunter in a deer stand about to shoot a large buck, and still others may be thinking it's a military sniper like chris kyle getting ready to kill an enemy.  however, if i were to tell you the sentence before it said, "the cool breeze blew across his face, cooling the sweat on his forehead as he focused on the contours of the lush, green carpet that lay between him and the hole," you begin to get a better picture of what is going on.  if i then were to tell you that the subject of the article was phil mickelson, you get an even better picture.  then, finding out it was an article in "golf digest" gives you a greater picture.  as you look at the author and when it was written, and find out it was written in augusta, georgia, you begin to find out more about the context and the importance of the shot.  so by digging deeper, and not stopping at that one phrase, you learn more about what that one phrase means.  Scripture is the same way.    

so first, you need to start with the original language.  our english translations lose so much of the meaning of the text that it is simply skimming the surface when reading it without digging deeper.  we even get so wrapped up in our english versions, that we begin to claim one as superior to others.  my favorite is the "king james only" crowd, who claim that the "1611 king james" is the only authorized Word of God.  this is comical, because when you look at the history of the king james version, you realize that the first edition, published in 1611, is not the version we have today.  the english of that time was very different from our english today, and reading a first edition of the 1611 king james is like reading the "canterbury tales" in the old english.  the king james today is actually the 1769 edition, or the 1881 edition if you take out the 14 aprocryphal books.  regardless, it is not the original language, which is the most accurate version of Scripture.  for instance, did you know in the original koine' greek, there were multiple words for "love?"  so when you read a passage like Jesus talking to peter after His resurrection, and Jesus asks peter if he loves Him, you only see the word "love."  however, in the greek, there were two different words used for love in that passage, one meaning "love as a brother" and the other meaning "unconditional love."  that opens up the passage that much more.  you may say, "well, i don't know greek."  the good news is, amazon has books on learning greek, or, if you are not that dedicated, you can look up the words in lexicons and interlinear Bibles that contain "strong's" references, which tell you the original greek or hebrew word, and you can then go and look up what that word means in the tense that it was used. 

secondly, we need to look at context.  things such as geography, location, and what a passage would have meant to the people of that time and place are important.  for example, how many of you have heard that God would rather have you be completely cold towards Him or on fire for Him, rather than lukewarm, being on the fence?  well, when you read about laodicea, you find that it was situated between two hills, from which two springs came:  a hot one, like our own hot springs, arkansas, that was in the city of hieropolis, known for its therapeutic bath houses; and a cold one, that was in the city of colossus, known for its cold, pristine drinking water.  the two springs met, and flowed through laodicea, and picked up sediment, and became toxic.  when you look at that context, it's clear that God wants us to be like a hot, healing bath, or a cold, refreshing drink of water, to those we minister to, rather than being neither and having a toxic attitude. 

a third question to ask is the history of the passage.  what was going on at the time it was written?  when you look at the roman society of the early church, in which most of the new testament books were written, you will find out that it was a very decadent society, one that was plagued with intense persecution of CHRISTians.  when you read paul's letters, and realize that some of them were written from a roman holding cell while awaiting trial, you find out the squalid conditions of those cells, where prisoners were dropped into holes in caves and forced to eat and sleep in their own excrement, and phrases like, "i am in need of nothing," from Philippians take on a new meaning.  so history is important.

fourth, looking at the author and intended audience makes a big difference.  for example, look at the gospels.  each one was written by a different author, to a different audience.  matthew was written by a devout jew, to a jewish audience, so he is going to spend a lot of time focusing on Jesus' rabbinical teachings.  mark was a young man at the time, so he's going to focus on more of the actions of Jesus.  luke, we know, was a physician, writing to a gentile named theophilus, so he is going to focus more on the details of who Jesus was.  john, was the more theological of the three, and is writing to convince people of the messianic claims of Jesus.  

 you also need to interpret passages in light of other passages.  some people use Scripture like a spiritual ouija board, taking one Scripture and running with it without comparing it to other Scriptures, and end up with a heretical view because of their own presuppositions when reading a passage.  remember that Scripture is never going to contradict itself when it comes to doctrine.  many people today claim that Scripture says to not judge, but they only look at that one verse, while ignoring the countless other Scriptures that tell us we are to judge, especially when it comes to those claiming to be of the faith. 

the final piece of the puzzle is prayer.  God speaks to us through His Word, and through prayer.  we are always to approach Scripture with prayer, because while you may be looking at printed words on a page, Scripture is far different than any other printed work, in that God speaks to us through His Word.  gone are the days when God would speak audibly from pillars of cloud and burning bushes, and now He speaks to us in that still, small voice.  so we are to approach Scripture with an attitude of prayer, and seeking God's face and will as we read, asking Him to reveal Himself to us through the words on the page.  that is why different people can read the same passage and God can speak to them in the midst of their circumstances in completely different ways; or person can read a passage one day, and God speak to them one way, and then another day hear from God in a completely different way.  Scripture is a living, breathing entity, and one that is there for our benefit, but we have to use it if we are to benefit from it.

there are things that you can do to get started in your biblical journey.  if you do not read Scripture, and don't know how to approach it, don't dismay.  everyone has to start somewhere.  begin by reading it.  pick a translation that you can understand.  the new international version is written in a way to be accessible to beginners. the language used is meant to be at a middle school reading level.  while it is not the most accurate in terms of literal translations from the original languages, it is a good place to start.  if you are looking for an accurate word for word translation, the new american standard Bible is the most accurate, other than going to the original languages themselves.  the english standard version is a newer version of the nasb, and is also very accurate, but tried to correct some of the readability problems with the nasb.  as you read, build on that, and start looking at commentaries (there are some free ones you can download, including matthew henry's commentary,) which help do a lot of the research for you.  however, don't fall into the trap of reading more of what people say about the Bible than the Bible itself.  devotional books are good, but should never replace Scripture itself in your own life.  bank tellers are taught to recognize counterfeit bills not by handling counterfeits, but by spending so much time handling real bills, that a counterfeit will be easy to spot.  paul tells us to test the spirits, and the way to do this is by knowing God's Word inside and out, so that when a false teacher or an errant teacher presents a "different gospel" than the one in Scripture, you will recognize it and rebuke it.  as numbers in the church dwindle, and members are led astray by false teachings of other religions, including the one of science and logic, because although science is a good thing, it can become a religion (with scientists as their priests,) the more the faithful know and practice Scripture, the more we will be able to stand firm and be the ones mentioned in Revelation that overcome. 


liar, liar, pants on...

one of my favorite shows is the andy griffith show, and in that show, andy once said, "oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."  this was actually a quote from an epic poem named "marmion" by sir walter scott, but being that i hadn't heard of sir walter scott, or the poem, at the time, i will forever remember it as a quote by andy.  today's society is one that is now rife with liars, and as the presidential election heats up, we will see outright evidence of it on our televisions and computer screens.  politicians lie, the media lies, business leaders lie.  it has become so commonplace, that the only way to tell when these people are lying is when their lips are moving.  lies like the ones they tell, generally don't have a direct effect on us, but secondary ones.  however, when people lie directly to us, it becomes way more personal. 

as a chaplain, i deal with liars on a daily basis.  people who lie to their commands to avoid punishment.  people who lie to their spouses to avoid fights.  people who lie to caregivers so they can go home from deployment.  it can be very frustrating.  as a chaplain, i am bound by total confidentiality, meaning that i cannot divulge to anyone, no matter rank or position, anything anyone says to me within the confines of counseling, even in intention or admission of harm to self or others.  this includes lies that people have told, that i know to be false, yet i cannot tell anyone.  when i see the service member who has been sleeping with a "boat boo" on the ship, walk across that pier on homecoming and hug and kiss their spouse, i get angry and want to go over and save that spouse from that service member's lies, but i can't.  i get even angrier when people lie to me, someone who is trying to help them.  lies can be destructive, especially when they affect those we care about.

in order to see the destruction lies can cause, we have to first look at the kinds of lies there are.  the first is lies of omission.  these are the lies that are told in our actions, and in statements of half truths.  it is the lie told by the service member when he hugs that spouse he has just cheated on.  his lack of honesty with her, while pretending that he is the devout husband, is one that, when discovered, can have far more devastating effects when discovered.  and make no mistake, they are usually discovered, sometimes not until years later, but the effects are no less harmful.  many times people think that they are protecting the one that they care about by not telling the whole truth, when in actuality they are only hurting that person and the relationship more than if they were to tell the whole truth and then ask for forgiveness.  many times people will mix lies in with the truth to make their statement more impressive or believable.  satan did this in the garden with eve when he told her that she wouldn't die.  this type of lie, when told by people, usually indicates a lack of self-esteem, as the person feels that they need to embellish the truth to make themselves look better. 

a second type of lie is the lie of deception.  this is a statement intended to deceive somebody.  this kind of lie can be broken down into lies of concealment, false promises, lies of convenience, and lies of malice.  lies of concealment are told when a person knowingly makes a false statement to avoid an unpleasant situation.  for example, a child lying and saying that they didn't take a cookie is trying to avoid getting a spanking, and thus telling a lie of concealment.  in the example above, if a wife finds out about an indiscretion, and then asks the husband about it, and he lies saying it never happened, that is a lie of concealment.  it is meant to conceal the ugly truth from the other person.  no matter the motive behind it, it is always destructive.  if a lie of concealment is discovered, the person lied to loses trust with the liar, and trust is something that is very difficult to earn again.  depending on the magnitude of the indiscretion, and the personal feelings related to the offense committed against the person lied to, a lie of concealment can wreck varying degrees of havoc on a relationship.  false promises are another form of lies of deception.  this is a promise or statement made that the maker does not intend on upholding.  these lies cause problems within all kinds of relationships, from friendships, to marriages, to business relationships.  in the past, a man's word was his bond, and today we now have more lawyers than any time in history because of this type of lie.  lies of convenience are ones that are told to gain special favors.  we have people who are identifying themselves as military members in order to gain special treatment in society.  as a chaplain, i see people use this type of lie all the time to get out of deployment.  many people will fake an illness, or suicidal ideations, because they know that it will get them out of the deployment.  this lie, while not seeming very harmful, can have secondary effects on those around them.  the person who lies to get out of the deployment, when discovered, then casts a shadow on those who have genuine problems.  the final type of lie of deception is the lie of malice.  this is the lie that is told to cause harm to another person.  it is the type of lie referenced in the ten commandments when it says to not bring false witness against your neighbor.  people lie to hurt others, which usually stems from a root of anger or jealousy within their own lives.  it is usually done with a motive of vengeance.  the problem with these types of lies is that the harm that it can cause to another person can be difficult to get past.  if a person lies and makes a false statement about another person, that lie can cause irreparable damage to that person's career, reputation, marriage, and life.  even if the lie is proven false, there will always be those that either didn't find out about the falsehood, or that simply refuse to believe it and will forever doubt that person.  we see this all the time when a person is accused of sexual assault, and later is found to be innocent, and the public still sees them as a sexual predator and treats them with distrust.  lies of deception are generally the most destructive.

another type of lie is the white lie.  these are the lies that are generally understood to not cause harm to anyone.  these can be in the forms of exaggeration or politeness.  this is the lie told when a fisherman says that the fish that got off his line was ten lbs, when in actuality it was probably closer to two.  it is the lie told when a person says that they have a prior commitment to avoid going on a date with someone that they do not like.  many will argue that these lies are socially accepted as being okay, but scripture tells us that any lying is wrong, even white lies. 

a final type of lie is the most controversial.  it is the lie of protection.  it is a lie told to protect another's feelings, safety, or reputation.  this type of lie can be construed as good or bad, depending on the situation.  people like to use the examples of those hiding jews from the nazis and lying about it, or the hebrew midwives hiding the babies born from pharaoh to save them as an example of the good of this lie.  books on ethics have been written over this type of lie, so trying to address this topic in a few paragraphs is an exercise in futility. 

the bottom line is regardless of the situation, lying is not the ideal.  while lies of protection can come down to a person's individual conscience, every other form of untruth is contradictory to Scripture, which is why they are so harmful.  CHRIST said that He is the Truth, and if we are to strive to be like Him, then we should always tell the truth.  proverbs says that one of the things that God considers an abomination is a lying tongue.  for the believer, harboring lies leads to a guilty conscience, and the effect can quickly snowball.  a person discovered in a lie will many times create another lie to cover that one up, and before they know it, that web of deceit starts to unravel, and can cause all sorts of emotional problems, from anxiety and depression, to anger and broken relationships.  it is always best to tell the truth up front, but when you've given in to the temptation to lie, whatever the reason, the best course of action is to come clean as soon as possible and ask for forgiveness.  this simple act alone can restore trust to a relationship much quicker than if the lie was discovered.  the longer the lie continues, the greater the risk of being discovered, and the more problems and hurt it causes.

for the person that has been lied to, forgiveness is paramount to healing.  while it may be difficult to trust that person for the near future, holding it against them is not biblical.  we are to grant forgiveness whenever a wrong is committed against us, no matter the degree of that wrong.  forgiveness can be instrumental in restoring trust, and in renewing a relationship.  just as telling the truth is imitating CHRIST, forgiveness is as well.  your forgiveness for the person that lied to you or about you may be the very thing CHRIST uses to bring them to Him.