20150524

of pearls, dust, and pigs

those of you that have read my blog know that i hold some pretty distinct, and sometimes strong views on things, especially pertaining to the CHRISTian faith.  the beauty and tragedy of the internet is that it gives anyone the platform to share their views to a much broader audience.  before, if you had an opinion or a view on something, you were restrained to those at work that were willing to suffer you the time to listen, or via phone conversation with a family member or friend.  now, you can let people all over the world know exactly how you feel with just one click.  blogs, facebook, twitters, opinion columns all are filled with people that use them to tell everyone exactly how they feel, whether people want to know it or not.  while this is not necessarily a bad thing, it does open up avenues for debates, and the anonimity of the internet emboldens people to turn into keyboard rambos, vanquishing the twisted and backward views of those out there with whom they happen to disagree with extreme prejudice!  there have been many nights that i myself have burned the proverbial midnight oil because someone somewhere on the internet was wrong, and i felt it was my civic duty to correct them.  however, i began thinking about the futility of that exercise, and how much time i have wasted on pointless and many times counter-productive debates with complete strangers online.  so i began to rethink my approach to the topic, because at 40, i realize that i'm supposedly on the downhill side of life, and how much time do i really want to waste on people who may not care what i have to say?  so if you are like me, here are some things to think about the next time you feel the need to tell everyone how and why they are wrong.

first, before you jump into an internet debate with both feet, consider the audience.  are these people you know and will care what you think?  how many times have we laid the smack down on some stranger on the other side of the country that we never met because they held a view that we didn't agree with, only to have that person dismiss us and ridicule us?  if this is a person that you wouldn't call on the phone or drive to their house and say it to their face, are they really worth your time?  also, are they someone that will actually listen to you and heed your advice?  let's say you are engaging in an argument that is clearly a black and white, clear cut case of right and wrong.  what are the odds of that person, if they know you or not, actually changing their mind and coming over to your way of seeing it?  if they are slim, then what is the point?  Jesus talked about casting your pearls before swine to be trampled on, and many times, that is all we are doing when we choose to debate people online, and trample them they will.  if this is somebody that you know, is it worth potentially damaging a relationship to prove a point?  i have counseled with people who were mad at their best friend, their mother or father, brother or sister, or even a husband or wife because of a debate over something pointless.  before you attempt to debate them, ask yourself how far are you willing to go, and is it worth the price it could cost the relationship.     

this leads me to the next point.  what is the purpose of your debating the faceless person?  is it simply because you think that they are an idiot and you know better than them?  if so, then you have a pride problem.  so many times we have the incessant need to be right that we engage in pointless debates only to lose all civility in the argument.  proverbs tells us to not argue with a fool, because an observer won't know who is the wise man and who is the fool.  there's a lot of wisdom in this.  if we get sucked into a debate online, many times we end up looking just as foolish as the other person because we get emotional and stop thinking clearly and start circular arguing, which leads nowhere.  remember, the point of debate is the exchanging of ideas, and not to completely ignore the other person's arguments because you are loading up your next factual bullet to fire at them.  if a debate cannot be entered into with an open mind to actually listen to the other person's argument, then it is an exercise in futility.

another question to ask is do you have some sort of authority with which to engage in the debate?  you may feel very strongly about climate change, but if you are not a climate scientist that has actually done research on the subject, debating people who have is probably not a wise idea.  an important note here is when i say authority, i mean actual knowledge and not a list of randomly selected facts from a bunch of facebook articles you read.  i've made that mistake before and stepped into a debate based on limited knowledge that i had and got my butt handed to me.  if it was a face to face debate, i would have ended up sounding like tommy boy, mumbling and stammering under my breath that their brain was the one with the candy shell!  so before you jump into a debate, ask yourself if you will actually do more harm to your cause by causing those who are actual authorities on the subject to be grouped in with you.

some people love to argue.  ever met that person that will argue with anyone?  my middle son is like that.  if he's in an argumentative mood, he'll argue that the sun is blue just to have a reason to argue.  are you one of those people?  if so, a good rule of thumb to follow when choosing which debates to get into online is to ask yourself is this a cause that you are passionate about, or as a friend of mine used to say, is this a hill worth dying on?  if not, then what is the point?  you end up making yourself seem like an argumentative jerk that is just looking for a fight.  and if it is a cause that you are passionate about, can you debate without resorting to childish tactics such as insults?  as the debate progresses, ask yourself if it's actually getting anywhere.  i have been in some very lively and passionate debates online, where everyone was being civil, and ideas were being exchanged and respected.  however, i have been in debates where it was obvious that the people on the other end were not listening, and were resorting to insults and ridicule.  i initially joined a facebook page that was supposed to be for the purpose of discussing religion, and ended up being a bunch of atheists ridiculing and ganging up on the CHRISTians there, so i chose to politely back out.

finally, as a follower of CHRIST, you need to ask yourself what kind of witness are you presenting?  are you doing more to harm the cause of CHRIST with the digital projection of yourself than you are help?  are you coming across as smug and arrogant and judgmental?  if so, then you are not maintaining the humility that CHRIST called us to and modeled for us.  and sometimes that means declining to participate in a pointless debate.  sometimes it means participating, but doing so with a spirit of love and kindness.  but most importantly, it means to be willing to admit when you are wrong or you do not know an answer.  nothing does more harm to the cause of CHRIST than an ill-equipped but well meaning zealous person trying to charge hell with a water pistol.  that's why paul told timothy to study to show yourself approved.  before you attempt to engage in a battle, you want to make sure you have the full armor of God and know how to use it.  otherwise you make the cause of CHRIST look idiotic and you become a caricature for others to hold up as the model for a CHRISTian.  and always remember, don't take it personally when a person doesn't hear your arguments.  if you genuinely feel that you are right, and the other person simply refuses to concede to your point of view, then as paul said, shake the dust from off your heels and walk away.  you'll save time, lower your blood pressure, and be happier in the end!

20150515

guardians of the planet

when i was in grade school, there was a show on called "captain planet."  those of you who are fellow gen x-ers should remember it.  it involved the hero, captain planet, and his planeteers who sought to save the earth from those that sought to pollute and destroy it.  at the time, there were those in the church that called the show evil and said that it was teaching pantheism and planet worship, etc.  while there was a goddess on there named gaia, most kids knew it was fiction, but it was part of something in gen x-ers that was uniquely different from their baby boomer parents.  kids began to pay attention to pollution, and how we were treating our planet, and that resulted in a new environmental awareness that would shape the next generation.

with the advent of this new environmental protection, the pendulum unfortunately has swung to the opposite direction to a sense of hyper-vigilance, and organizations such as greenpeace and the epa have effectively vilified those who are environmentally conscious, branding them all as "environmental whackos" and other misnomers.  the church even went so far as to condemn anyone who became environmentally conscious as being guilty of planet worship, essentially saying that they were worshiping the creation instead of the Creator.  while there are those that do that, there is definitely wisdom in being good stewards of our planet.

it is very easy to develop a sense of complacency when it comes to our planet.  i have done it myself when i decided to fill up the empty soda can with water so that it would sink to the bottom of the lake while i was fishing.  but it is this attitude that has gotten us to where we are today.  call me a hippie or an environmentalist whacko or liberal (gasp!) or whatever you want, but having been all over the world, i have learned to appreciate the environment that much more, and now see it as a gift from God.  the problem of our not seeing the planet as something to treasure and instead as something to exploit for monetary gain is just as bad as elevating it to something to be worshiped.  traveling to the nation of djibouti gives me glimpses of what can happen when people stop respecting their environment.  garbage piles are everywhere and general filth are the norm, so when i am walking on a trail in a beautiful stretch of woods and i see trash on the ground, i am compelled to pick it up.  when i see a car spewing thick clouds of smoke out its tailpipe, i want to go tell the owner to stop driving it.  whenever i see another chemical spill, i want those responsible to pay every penny they have to clean it up and to install safeties to insure that it doesn't happen again.   george carlin had a very funny routine where he addressed the arrogance of man in thinking that we could "save the planet."  we cannot even save ourselves, so saving the planet is laughable, but it doesn't mean that we should treat it with complete disregard. 

you see, for us as CHRIST-followers, we should have a greater respect for the planet than we do.  our "pie in the sky by and by" mentality of "CHRIST is coming back, so why worry?" is akin to ms. clinton's famous statement, when asked about benghazi, of "what does it matter anyway?"  none of us knows when CHRIST will come back, and even if we did, does that somehow negate our command to be good stewards of what God has given us, the planet included?  in genesis, adam was commanded to care for the earth.  just because he messed up and was kicked out of the garden in no way diminishes that command to care for the earth.  we should be at the forefront of the push to demand environmental responsibility, and instead we are equated with those that rape and pillage the gift that God has given us.  if you don't think it is a gift, i encourage you to compare the beauty of some of the magnificent natural wonders in your own state, much less the planet, and then compare that to the desertification of areas of africa and south america and see what is left behind after man's destruction.  you will then see what a gift things such as a vast natural forest, an unspoiled stream cascading over a waterfall, or biodiversity in the many animal species that live on land, fly in the air, and swim in our waters actually are.

this post is not to get into the debate of man-made climate change or environmental legislation, but to simply get you to step back and take a look at how we are treating one of God's greatest gifts to us.  biblical mandate aside, look at how our treating the environment affects us directly in the here and now.  fly into los angeles and see the permanent brown haze that hovers over the city, and you might get an explanation as to the reason for the high number of respiratory problems and acid rain in that city.  ever had to boil your water because of a purity problem?  or better yet, ever taken a drink of chemical tainted water?  on ship, we make our own potable water using a desalinization process, and sometimes the bromide we add to the water gets too high and everyone on board suffers with the effects in the form of diarrhea.  sometimes, jp5, or jet fuel, makes its way into the water supply, and you can smell it and taste it.  so clean drinking water should be priority enough to demand that people stop dumping harmful chemicals into our water supply.  look at california and how they have wasted that natural resource and are now resorting to rationing water and stealing it from each other.  over-fishing has led to food shortages in areas of the world that rely on fish for their food source.  take a look through history at the dust bowl situation in oklahoma as a result of over-farming. 

we must realize that God's laws are there for our good, and there is wisdom behind all of them.  our planet is a finite system with finite resources, and once they are gone, save a miracle from God, they are gone, never to return.  end times prophecies speak of famine and drought, and perhaps we will have a hand in that.  it would be poetic justice that our misuse of God's resources, which could be called sin if you get down to it, would be the instrument that God used to punish us via consequences.  for those of us that follow CHRIST, Scripture is clear that those who are called stewards are expected to not just maintain, but to develop an increase (remember that parable that Jesus told on stewards?)  there are those that are doing just that as they go to other countries and teach them responsible and sustainable farming methods.  there are missionaries that help to develop clean water sources for villages that are without, and then they teach them how to care for that water source.  part of being good stewards is leaving behind a better place for our children and grandchildren than what we had.  unfortunately, i think we have been failing in that aspect, however, we are getting better.  one day we will be asked to account for what we did with the gifts God gave us, the environment included.  how will you fare?     

20150509

the hand that rocks the cradle

somebody once told me that behind every good man, there is a good woman.  it was meant to reference the man's wife, but it actually begins much earlier than that.  there is an old phrase that says, "the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."  there is a reason for that phrase.  a child gets a majority of their early childhood lessons from their mother.  everything from simple lessons on how to hold a spoon, how to go to the bathroom by themselves, and how to clean their room, to life lessons such as how to treat others, love of the arts, love of sports, and how a mom and dad should treat each other.  dads have a role in some of these lessons, but for the most part, it is usually the woman that spends those early years at home teaching their kids.

moms and dads tend to love differently as well.  a dad's love is usually more utilitarian, shown by working to provide a good life for his family; but a mom's is more emotional.  moms are the ones who comfort a child when they have a nightmare.  moms are the ones who kiss away the pain of a cut or scrape.  moms are the ones that sons and daughters come to when they experience their first heartbreak of a failed relationship (and usually every relationship after that.)  moms are the ones who fix soup for their kids when they are sick.  moms take over the snack responsibilities for ball games and make the cupcakes for school parties.  moms are the ones kids run to when dad says, "no."  so it's understandable that mothers have the amount of influence over their kids that they do.

God knew what He was doing when He designed the female maternal instinct.  children are brought in the world through pain, yet instead of avoiding reminders of that pain, as most people do, moms not only spend every moment they can around those reminders, they usually endure it multiple times, because they know that the years of reward are much greater than the few hours of pain they endured in the process.  no matter how much a child may grate on a mom's nerves, one voluntary hug and kiss and an "i love you, mom" from that child can make her forget all about it.

mother's day is this weekend, and i wanted to take a moment and brag on the mothers in my life that have had the most impact on me.  the first is of course, my mom.  my mom has been a constant influence in my life, often having to occupy both the role of mother and father due to my dad's working two jobs to provide for us during early childhood.  mom stood by me during the difficult times of puberty, and while we didn't always see eye to eye on things (and still don't,) i never doubted for a second that she loved me and cared for me and wanted the best for me.  but the one thing that my mom taught me more than anything is the power of prayer.  she modeled for me a life devoted to God and Scripture reading and prayer.  every morning when i would get up and come to the table to eat my customary bowl of cereal, i would see her Bible sitting there, well worn, from her time of getting up early and spending that time alone reading and praying.  even now, i know that when my mom says she is praying for me, she means it.  she was always my voice of reason when i would find myself chasing some adventure that i thought sounded fun at the time.  she was always encouraging, and not in the sense of instilling false pride, but in a way of pushing me to do my best in whatever i attempted.  she endured many a heartbreak as she saw me go down destructive paths, and thanks to her prayers and influence, i came out of those paths and am the man i am today.  i am thankful for the relationship we have today, because there were times that she wasn't my favorite person, especially when she was correcting me and trying to teach me during those headstrong teen years.  today, i consider her a friend as much as a mom, and i look forward to those times when i get to see her and talk to her (even if i know a lecture is coming for my latest facebook post or not calling in a while.)  i look forward to living closer to her in a year, and getting to see her more than once or twice a year. 

another mom that has had tremendous impact on me, whether she knows it or not, is my mother-in-law.  my bride and i always comment on how blessed we are to have the relationships with our in-laws that we do.  most husbands dread being around their mother-in-law, but i am fortunate to not have to experience that.  mama j, as i call her, has been there throughout my bride's and my relationship, from those early years of friendship and dating, through the tumultuous years of the break-up, and throughout our years of marriage.  she has been the go-between for my bride and me as we rekindled our relationship after all those years apart.  i will never forget the conversation we had while sitting on a bench in boston, when she asked me how i felt about my bride, and she then informed me that her daughter felt the same way, and that God had to grow both of us to get us to where we were ready for the next step.  she is one of those mothers-in-law that i can pick up the phone and call or message just to say hello, and she will do the same for me.  she is a big part of the success in my bride's and my marriage.

that brings me to the other mom that has affected me more than she realizes.  my bride, and the mother of our children.  she never ceases to amaze me on what she is able to do with our boys.  due to my being gone so much in the past three years, i get home and i am clueless on how to handle their hijinx, yet she steps in and makes me look like a rookie parent!  she is not arrogant in her parenting, as great leaders never are, but our boys look up to her with an awe and love that inspires me.  she doesn't always see it, but i do.  she, like my mom, has taken on the role of both mother and father, and does an amazing job at it on a daily basis.  her creative spirit shines through whether she is looking in the pantry to piece together a meal out of things that i would think have no business going together, or coming up with a craft for the boys to do on a rainy day, or finding ways to inspire them to do something they don't want to do.  the way she gives selflessly to them on a daily basis is a true picture of the Father and how He laid His life down for His children.  our boys may look like me, but they have their mother's spirit:  that spirit of tenacity and never giving up, of treating others with kindness and respect, of seeing life from a different lens, and a love and appreciation for the arts.  somebody once said that there is not one person God has set aside for us in marriage, but i beg to differ.  God knew that i would need a woman who was independent and strong, one that would be able to handle the rough road He has called us to, and i know of no other woman more well-suited to that than my bride.  any other woman would have crumbled and given up, and there are times that i know she wants to, but she doesn't.  she perseveres, and loves our children (although, as any mother will tell you, she may not always like them!) and daily goes without showers, without personal time for herself, without eating a hot meal, and without sleep to care for them.  she may make mistakes, and readily owns up to them, but unless someone has lived her life, they have no measure with which to judge her.  i am blessed to have her as the mother of our children, and as my bride, and i look forward to being back home with her to stand beside her and marvel as i attempt to help but only complicate.

there are many others i could mention that have served as second, third, and fourth mothers for me, such as mama bee, mama d, and a variety of others.  all of you have a special place in my life, so from me to you, happy mother's day.  to try and fit all of the praises due into one day is asinine, but try we will.  i pray that all of you have a wonderful day, surrounded by your children's love, whether they are with you or not, and know that you are each changing the world!  "her children shall rise up and call her blessed."  

20150508

unsung heroes

today is military spouse appreciation day, and i would be remiss if i didn't take a moment and lend my blog to recognize those that serve alongside all of us who signed that dotted line and raised our hand.  a few days ago, i wrote a letter to my sons in honor of the month of the military child.  it seems unfair to have a whole month dedicated to military children, but only a day to the military spouse.  it is a very difficult job, and one that few understand.  you can watch every single episode of "army wives" and think that you understand the life of a military spouse, but unless you've lived it, you cannot understand it.  i've attempted to write a job description below for a military spouse, for those who live it, and for those who may be considering it.  feel free to add in the comments anything that i've missed.

wanted:
men and women to serve our country as military spouses.  must be willing to work on little or no pay, as you will likely not have a chance to have a career of your own.  your pay will be what the government pays your spouse, and you will be expected to live off of the salary our congress, most of whom have never served a day of their lives, feel is sufficient.  you will be expected to move away from everything you have known, as well as leaving family and friends behind, to go and occupy a house that isn't yours in a town or country that you likely have never been to.  most of these towns will be military towns, meaning that they will be rife with military culture, and very little culture of their own.  businesses that cater to the military will be the norm, and expect to see lots of bars, strip clubs, and barbers.  expect the local businesses to claim to support the military, but be wary of their practices, as they are known for preying upon unknowing military spouses.

you will be expected to learn a new language, as you adapt to the military environment and speech.  you will learn the phonetic alphabet, and the various acronyms that apply to your spouse's unit, only to have to learn new ones when they are pcs'd (relocated) to another unit.  you will have to learn uniforms, ranks, and where your spouse sits in the chain of command.  you will be expected to attend military functions, and display the proper courtesies to those of higher rank than your spouse.  you will learn to read an les, and to know how much money your spouse is supposed to be paid.  you will become very familiar with legal documents such as powers of attorney and wills.  you will be given an id, one that you must keep up with, for it will be your means to access base facilities, as well as medical care at the military treatment facilities.

once you have assimilated to your spouse's new assignment, you will have to learn to make friends quickly, and learn to say goodbye to those same friends just as quickly.  you will constantly be surrounded by strangers, and you will have to learn to network to learn your environment.  you will need to find mentors that can help you navigate your constantly changing environment, and in turn, you will be expected to mentor others who are new to the area or the military.  you will likely be expected to be active in the family readiness group of your spouse's unit.  these can be tricky environments where many spouses try to wear the rank of their military member, and can be very political.

your spouse will deploy.  this is a given.  the number of deployments you are expected to endure will vary based upon your spouse's mos, rank, and unit.  deployments are difficult, and you must be ready to take on an inordinate amount of responsibility in a short amount of time with little to no notice.  you will be expected to manage a home, be the family accountant, ensuring that all bills in each of your names are paid on time, because failing to do so can affect your spouse's clearance and possibly career.  you will be responsible for upkeep of the house, including the exterior lawn responsibilities.  you will likely be responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of not only the family vehicle, but your spouse's as well.

if you decide to have children, you will be expected to take on both the roles of mother and father for your children during deployments and training.  you will have to dry tears as they cry in bed at night wondering when their mother or father is coming home.  you will have to try to explain many of life's difficult moments to them, including puberty, dating, loss, death, and any other topic that comes up.  you will have to help with homework, all the while trying to plan and prepare a meal with little or no help, then get the kids in bed so that you have time to yourself to get done the household chores that have built up during the business of the day.  you will go days without a shower, makeup, or shaving.  you will have to get up each morning, despite exhaustion, and get the kids and yourself ready for school and yourself ready for your day.  you will get no breaks from the children, as you will have them seven days a week until your spouse returns, and even after they return you will be expected to take care of them as your spouse adjusts to returning home.

all of this is to be done while dreading every phone call from an unknown number, every unexpected knock on the door, and every news story that mentions your spouse's location or unit.  you will be expected to sacrifice your spouse, or at best, your spouse's mental stability.  you will have to navigate the difficulties of the wounds of war, both seen and unseen.  the person that you married, is likely to not be the same person you are married to five, ten, or twenty years from now.

this is not an easy job, but it is a critical one.  your faithfulness can directly affect not only your spouse, but others in their unit as well.  your support can mean the difference between a successful marriage and career, or divorce and ruined lives.  if you endure, you will be stronger than any of your civilian counterparts, and you will have made a difference in the freedoms we enjoy as americans.  so choose well.  it is not an easy life, but it can be a rewarding one.  and make no mistake, you will be a hero, one without medals, certificates, or awards.  one without uniforms, training, or recognition.  but you will have a unit, the order of the military spouse.  you will join with your fellow spouses, and together, you will make history.     

20150507

duped

i must admit, i'm a news junkie.  i like to know what is going on in the world.  however, in recent years, i've noticed a trend among the news media.  sensationalism is now the name of the game.  there has always been an element of it in the news, because newspapers and news organizations are all about selling stories, but recently, it seems to have gotten worse.  everything is doom and gloom, and it is driving tensions in society up.  part of it is the widespread access of news.  before, news was relegated to the local populus, and relatively contained in the local community and spread through the hometown newspaper.  sure, there were those stories that would transcend the local outlets to a national stage, such as mass murders, stock market fluctuations, wars, etc.  however, local crimes rarely made headlines outside of the town where they were committed.  today, however, with the internet's broad reach, a seemingly small event can reach fever pitch within hours.  it seems every little world event is leading to world war three, every crime is evidence of societal anarchy, and every group out there that believes different is a radical group that is ready to kill us.

this has led to an interesting phenomenon within society.  articles and stories that used to be benign, thanks to sensationalism are now breeding fear and hate.  the average american now sees isis everywhere they turn.  racial tensions are supposedly at an all-time high and we are on the verge of a race war.  the government is turning into an orwellian big brother entity, and is a threat to everyone.  this all breeds fear, and fear left unchecked, turns to hate.  don't believe me?  ask the average person how they feel about snakes and they will respond, "i hate snakes!"  i know people that will almost cause a wreck trying to run over a snake crossing the road, regardless of what kind it is.  i've heard comments of, "the only good snake is a dead snake."  however, when a person knows a little about snakes, that fear subsides, and the desire to kill every snake turns into the desire to kill the venomous ones.  when a person knows more about them, even the desire to kill the venomous ones goes away.  it's all about understanding.  think about the tangible things you fear, whether it be clowns, spiders, bugs, homeless people, etc., and then compare them to things that you may not like, but don't necessarily fear.  significantly different, right?

now, let's translate that to those who identify themselves as CHRIST-followers.  we have been duped by the enemy, who is the author of fear and hate, into buying into his scare tactics and hate-mongering.  we are told hundreds of times in Scripture to not fear, but we let our fear get the best of us.  we fear the government, because it's taking away our comfort factor and compare it to nazi germany, expecting any day to have to wear cross labels identifying ourselves.  we fear those of a different religion than us, stating that all muslims are terrorists ready to chop our heads off, or all wiccans are satan worshippers sacrificing children in creepy midnight ceremonies.  we fear those of a different race than us, seeing them as a threat trying to gain power and oppress us or cause harm to us, even going so far as to twist Scripture to make our race the chosen race (here's a litmus test:  what color was Jesus?  white?  black?  something else?  or does it matter?)  we fear those of the lgbt lot, claiming that they are all pedophiles out to assault us and convert us to become like them.  we fear, we misunderstand, we avoid, we dislike, we loathe, we hate.  yes, we hate.

the fact of the matter is, that as CHRIST-followers, we are called to love all, including those we count as our enemies.  we are called to not fear those that can harm us, but instead to fear God.  did you know that in the days of the early church, martyrdom was considered to be such a high calling that CHRIST-followers would intentionally go up to Roman guards and tell them they were going to hell and were tools of Satan just so they could be imprisoned or martyred for their faith?  it got to the point to where the leaders of the church had to step in and say, "hey, we get what you're doing, but you gotta stop.  that's not what we are called to do!"  now, we run from persecution and hide from it and try to make laws to protect ourselves from it, when we are promised the exact opposite in Scripture.  here's a question for you, how are you going to share the gospel with somebody if you fear them or hate them?  we end up being like jonah, looking down on those evil ninevites, saying, "ok, God.  do Your thing.  judge them!  kill them!  rid the earth of them!  i did my job and told them, so now you need to do Your job and smite them, oh mighty Smiter!"

in order to get past our fears, we need to first trust God.  because fear shows a lack of trust in God.  a pastor friend once told me, "never let the fear of what could happen, stop you from doing what should happen."  we need the boldness of the disciples when they stood in front of the sanhedrin, after Jesus' resurrection, and pointed their fingers in the faces of those who just had their CHRIST crucified and said, "we represent CHRIST, whom you crucified! (emphasis mine)"  but to have that, we need to trust God.  and not just trust Him to make everything comfortable for us.  we need to trust that He has a plan whether we are successful, whether we are struggling, whether we have freedom, whether we are thrown in jail, or even if we are tortured and killed.  His plan is always perfect, and our trust should not be based on when things go the way we think they should.

another way to get past our fears is to seek to understand.  much in the same way a person can get over their fear of snakes by learning about them and spending time around them, we can do the same thing with people we fear.  i have friends that are muslim, and believe it or not, not a single one has said that they want to chop off my head!  we have lively discussions on religion, and there are things we agree to disagree on, but they are quick to tell me that they readily condemn the things that the radicals are doing.  and before we are too quick to look at their quran and say, "look at the evil things it commands them to do!" we have to remember some of the similar things that were commanded in the old testament that are part of our Scriptures.  oh, and while i'm on the subject, allah is the arabic translation for God, the same God that abraham worshiped.  it is not their "name" for God.  they may see Him differently, but when they say allah, it is no different from us calling Him God in our english language (surprise, surprise, God is not His name!)  sure, muslims are lost without accepting CHRIST as Lord, and not just recognizing Him as a prophet, but unless we get over our fear and distrust of them, we can never open those doors for dialogue that can lead to a conversation on saving faith and the person of CHRIST.  i also know people and counsel people who are professing wiccans.  they recognize that i am a CHRISTian chaplain, yet they still come to me.  why?  because they see me as someone who doesn't judge them, and i ask questions about their faith and why they believe what they believe, instead of a wholesale condemning of them (which is a great way to open up a conversation about CHRIST and the gospel.)  sure, they worship a false god, but how many of us did the same before we were redeemed by CHRIST?  there are those that are homosexuals that come to me for counseling, and did you know that not a single one of them has made a pass at me or hit on me?  and they know that i disagree with their lifestyle, the same as i disagree with the sailor who is living with their boyfriend/girlfriend to see if they are compatible for marriage.  they also know that i cannot counsel them in terms of relationship issues, but i can help them with other life problems that they are having, because Scripture contains practical advice for every day problems, including anger, depression, anxiety, fear, etc.

fear is a problem, but the biggest problem i see is when those who claim to be CHRIST-followers hate those that they fear.  1 john 4:18 says that there is no fear in love, and perfect love drives out all fear.  but there is fear in hate, and fear leads to hate.  there are those who profess to know CHRIST that would gladly like to see those they disagree with eradicated.  they are the embodiment of jonah, pronouncing their own judgment on the sinners, ignoring the fact that they have been forgiven themselves.  they want to put all the gays in a colony, like lepers (yes, i have heard somebody say that).  they want to export all the muslims back to their heathen lands and let them kill each other.  they want to force the government to stop passing all these heathen laws and get back to "in God we trust," whether it's true or not.  (coincidentally, did you notice that the phrase is on our money, which is more of a god to most people than the one true God.  irony?)

it's time for us as CHRIST-followers to stop being scared of our own shadows, like timid little church mice, scurrying away from the cat.  we need to rid ourselves of the hate that has infected us like a cancer, as Scripture says, if any many hates another, the love of CHRIST is not in him.  we need to put on the full armor of God, and be ready to stand up for our CHRIST and His truth, even if it means we are ridiculed, fined, hauled off to jail, or killed.  we are to be subject to the authorities that God has placed over us, but we also are to be subject first to CHRIST.  that means speaking the truth in love, and since there is no fear in love, it also means with boldness.  however, don't mistake that boldness for arrogance or pride.  we are to speak it with humility and be as gentle as doves, but wise as serpents.  are you afraid?  it is said that what we speak loudest against, is either what we fear the most or struggle with the most.  so be honest with yourself.  what do you fear?  and is that fear driving you to hate?  if so, remember these words of the Saviour, "do not fear, for I have overcome the world!"     

20150505

labels

the military is a funny place.  it's very much like the song, "secret agent man" where it says "they're giving you a number, and taking 'way your name."  i remember not too long after i went active with the marines, i was talking about a conversation i had with a marine to my bride, and she asked his name, so i said "lance corporal ________."  she then asked, "but what's his first name?" so i looked i gave her a puzzled look and said, "lance corporal?"  but that's the military for you.  she was friends with my co's wife at 2nd tracs, and she would refer to my co as "patrick," to which i replied, "please stop calling him that.  it weirds me out.  he's colonel!"  marines are very proud of their mos, and they will gladly tell you that they are an 0311, or an 1833, or whatever their mos might be.  it's their identity as marines.

the navy goes one step further.  their job is in their rank.  so you might find a ps2, which is a "personnel specialist, 2nd class petty officer," or a fc1, "fire controlman, 1st class petty officer."  the officers are known by their job titles, such as "weps" (weapons officer,) "suppo" (supply officer,) "cso" (combat systems officer,) etc.  i'm even relegated to the title "chaps."  in the aviation community, they are known by their call signs (think "top gun" with "maverick," "goose," and "iceman.")  my call sign when i fly is "wild" (do they know me or what?)

however, i've noticed that we have labels in civilian society as well.  there are the job labels such as the mailman, the barber, the boss, the secretary, etc.  you can be labeled based on position, such as somebody's brother, somebody's spouse, and other labels that indicate your relation to a person.  these can be good or bad, depending on the person they are relating you to.  i've made it a point to always introduce my bride by her name instead of as my wife to maintain her identity outside of me, because she is more than just my wife (even though on here i refer to her as my bride for protection purposes.)  but for somebody living in the shadow of a sibling or a parent, it can be difficult to get out from under that shadow, whether it's good or bad.  then there are the labels based on a person's past, such as drunk, slut, liar, jerk, adulterer, etc.  and those are the labels that are the hardest to get rid of.  no matter how much a person may change, there are always going to be those that insist on referring to them by their past labels.

when counseling someone who has been through a traumatic event, there is always the propensity for that person to bear the label of the victim.  one of the keys to helping a person through that, is to realize that being a victim is not who they are, and is not their identity.  sure, it will always be part of their past, but it doesn't have to define them.  sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors have the hardest time with this, which is partly why domestic abuse survivors have a higher chance of being abused again, because they see themselves as a victim.   

yes, labels can stick with you for years, and they can be very discouraging.  if a person starts allowing a label to define them, it can result in defeat and depression, and can even lead to acquiring other labels along the way, as label wearers tend to collect them.

however, for those in CHRIST, there's good news.  Scripture tells us that whenever a person is in CHRIST, they are a new creation, and that old things are passed and all things have become new.  i see so many people buying into those labels, and say that God could never use them because they are whatever label they are holding onto.  for those of you that are struggling with that, let me encourage you a bit.  here's the labels Scripture applies to you if you are a redeemed follower of CHRIST:

child of God (john 1:12)
friend of Jesus (john 15:15)
justified and redeemed (romans 3:24)
heir with CHRIST (romans 8:17)
accepted by CHRIST (romans 15:7)
saint (1 corinthians 1:12)
temple of the Holy Spirit (1 corinthians 6:19)
new creature in CHRIST (2 corinthians 5:21)
holy and unblemished (ephesians 1:4)
God's workmanship (ephesians 2:10)
members of CHRIST's body (ephesians 3:6)
righteous and holy (ephesians 4:24)
light in the Lord (ephesians 5:8)
citizen of heaven (philippians 3:20)
chosen by God (colossians 3:12)

and those are just a few.  remember, the enemy is described as the "accuser of the brethren," and he loves nothing more than to drag up your past and flaunt it in your face to rob you of your effectiveness and joy.  so next time your past seems to be getting the best of you, remind it that you are no longer that person.  when you are tempted to go back to your past, realize that you are a better person than that, and that old life no longer has dominion over you unless you let it. 

20150502

hi, pot. i'm kettle. gee, you're black!

there's a famous quote that says, "the greatest single cause of atheism in the world today, is CHRISTians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, and then walk out of the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  that is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."  as you read that statement, i want you to think about the controversial topic of gay marriage.  everyone is up in sorts trying to stop gay marriage from being the law of the land, desperately clinging to the disappearing reality of the united states being a CHRISTian nation.  there are those that would argue that we were never a CHRISTian nation to begin with, but even if we were at one time a nation of CHRISTians who used biblical principles to frame our government (which I think is a better description,) that is obviously no longer the case.  i have written previous blog posts alluding to, and actually stating the reason why this is the case, so that is not the purpose of this post.

nietzsche once said, "he who fights monsters should look to it that he does not become a monster himself."  while there are few other things with which i agree with nietzsche, he had a good point here.  whenever we decide on a new vice to go after, we begin to vilify those who practice whatever this particular vice may be.  while it is very easy and arguably justifiable to vilify those who commit sins that bring harm to the innocent, because they are villains in the strictest sense of the word, we have delved into vilifying those who simply engage in behaviour we are disgusted by or find offensive, despite the fact that it mainly brings no harm to us, but primarily those that practice it.  among those who claim CHRISTianity, the latest vilification in the "us versus them" battle is on those who practice homosexuality, specifically gay marriage advocates.  this battle has brought out some of the ugliest behaviour i have seen among those who call themselves followers of CHRIST, going so far as name-calling, pronouncing judgment as if we were God Himself, and even personal attacks on others, and definitely nothing that i would classify as loving or merciful.  however, it is said that before you point the finger, check the three that are pointing back at you.  in the realm of marriage and relationships, we need to ask ourselves as professing CHRISTians how we rate in that arena.  more importantly, we need to ask ourselves if gay marriage is the problem, or merely a symptom of the problem.  i postulate the latter, but to prove that point, some facts need to be brought to light.

first is the increasingly sexual nature of society.  in the 1960s, the free love movement took hold in the western world.  prior to that movement, sex was something that was kept out of the public light, and premarital and extramarital sex were considered taboo.  with their "love the one you're with" mantra, sex became something that was no longer seen as sacred and holy and restricted to the bonds of  matrimony.  the pornography industry was thrust out of the shadows of back alley bars and into the forefront with magazines like playboy, which led from strict nudity to more hardcore fare such as larry flynt's hustler and penthouse magazines.  and today, rather than embarrassment over sin, hollywood champions the hook-up culture, teen pregnancy, and other forms of even more deviant sexual behaviour with various forms of electronic entertainment aimed at normalizing these behaviours.  what's more is that sex is now seen as a base behaviour centered around instinct devoid of any emotional or spiritual connection.  we have even made abortions and std treatments readily available to teens without parental consent to deal with the consequences of their behaviour.  while we should expect nothing less from a fallen world, the percentage of those who identify themselves as CHRISTians that find nothing wrong with this behavior is staggering.  an increasing number of those claiming CHRISTianity today (among both conservative and liberal denominations) find nothing wrong with living with a love interest before marriage (one recent poll was 57%).  there are even those professing CHRISTianity that have twisted Scripture to say that it never condemns premarital sex or even adultery!  and then we have the audacity to act surprised when they take it one step farther to say that Scripture never forbade homosexuality.  moreover, the church made the subject of sex so taboo, and didn't explain the joys and benefits of sex within a covenant marriage relationship, resulting in teens that didn't have a biblical worldview of sexuality and the forbidden fruit of sex became that much more enticing.  it was the equivalent of putting a sign on a button that says, "do not push," without an explanation why, and all the while our rebellious nature screams at us, "push it!"  the church has made some good strides in the sexuality topic with abstinence training, but they still treat the sex topic as taboo and tiptoe around the issue instead of giving kids real talk on a biblical approach to sex to counter what they are being taught in the schools.  it's the "God says don't do it," talk, without the explanation why.  believe it or not, God's plan has a practical application, and our kids need to hear the why.  instead, we are letting the world teach our kids their view of sex, whether that is through the schools or through their peers.  this is also wreaking havoc within marriages as newly married couples who have saved themselves for marriage have trouble with freely communicating and enjoying sex within marriage because they feel guilty because they were told it was bad for so many years prior to marriage, that it is now a source of shame for them, and not intimacy and freedom within marriage.  so the marriage turns into a "sexless marriage," which is defined as having sex 12 times or less in a year, which leads to infidelity or divorce, which leads me to the next reason.  

secondly, there is our abysmal marriage success rate within the church.  i recently read a statistic that actually said that church members actually have a higher divorce rate than those outside the church!  divorce used to be one of those hush-hush topics that nobody spoke about except in whispers, and now it has become accepted and commonplace within the church.  i was youth pastor at a church, and had a middle school youth ask for prayer for her parents because they were going through a divorce and she felt like it was her job to hold them together.  i explained to her that it was not her responsibility, but her parents, and that her parents would have to answer to God for their decision (i knew their situation and it was simply a divorce of convenience) and that i would gladly pray for her as she went through this trying time.  her mom came up to me after church and said, "i heard what you said about divorce, and i think that you should have emphasized the forgiveness for the parents," to which i replied, "i've talked extensively about forgiveness, and the youth know that all sins can and will be forgiven with repentance."  she then went on to say, "well, you just make it seem like the parents are wrong."  i looked at her in shock and said, "you are!  you have no biblical reason for divorcing your husband.  he's not abusive, and hasn't committed adultery.  in fact, he wants to work on the marriage, but you decided you weren't happy and another person has made you happy so you are divorcing him so that you can go after this other guy!  paul said God forbid it if we sin thinking that we can get more grace."  she did not like that answer and told the pastor, and instead of supporting what Scripture said, he responded that i needed to be more tactful in my answers!  we have conceded defeat in the marriage battle, and the sexual sin battle.  i've heard people justify their affairs by saying that they had married the wrong person and God had brought them the right one, so they had God's permission to fix their mistake!  i wish i could say i was kidding, but i'm not.  granted, there are circumstances where abuse and adultery are present, and the offended has the biblical right to divorce, although it's not God's ideal.  most divorces are caused by one of three main issues:  adultery, addiction, or abuse.  but what are the majority of our marriage courses on?  communication.  we as a church have failed to address the root cause of the issue, and we treat broken people like pariahs and we wonder why they don't trust the church with their serious personal and marital problems such as addiction, adultery, or abuse.   

so if Scripture rings true, and we cannot point out another's flaws until we accept and fix our own, then we have no moral high ground to judge the sins of others.  that is not to say that we shouldn't stand firm on the principles of Scripture, but when we look at the state of marriage in our society today, we have nobody to blame but ourselves!  society looked at the very CHRISTian institution of marriage and sex, and found our portrayal of it lacking, our practice hypocritical, and went looking for other ways to meet the need for companionship.  our sons and daughters have grown up without father and mother figures in their homes, and they went looking for that opposite sex and same sex companionship and approval in the world instead of in the home.  what we are left with, is the current state of society.

to exacerbate the problem, churches have so watered down Scripture and had youth programs that had very little depth, if any, and were nothing more than glorified babysitting programs.  so our youth left the church with no Scriptural grounding, and when they got into the world, it became very easy to twist Scripture into what they wanted it to say, to fit what they were being taught outside the church by their peers and society.

can we go back?  doubtful.  we as sheltered americans, having come of age during the "moral majority," think that our society is the worst that has ever lived.  however, a study of the corinthian society in biblical times reveals a society far more decadent than ours is now.  and this was the city in which paul established a church and wrote two letters to, because of the sexual decadence within the church!  so instead of condemning people, we need to reach out, and as i've said before, allow CHRIST to save them and change them.  because here's the thing, sexual sin is sexual sin before God, whether it's hetero or homo.  and if you are lusting after a person that isn't your spouse, you are guilty of sexual sin and you are placed in the same boat as the adulterers and fornicators and homosexuals.  we are all sinners before God, in need of a Saviour, for if we've broken one law, we're guilty of breaking the whole of the law.  one sin is not worse than another (despite the claims i have heard by CHRISTians who say that homosexuality is worse because it's called an abomination, when in fact, there are a plethora of sins Scripture calls abominations), and only one sin is listed as unforgivable, which is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  so instead of sitting at your computer and typing facebook posts targeted at those "evil, filthy, disgusting homosexuals," how about checking yourself first, and then when you are without sin, you may cast the first stone.  and if a fellow brother or sister in CHRIST is struggling with homosexuality, or any other sexual sin for that matter, (yes, CHRISTians can struggle with sexual sin just like everyone else, including homosexuality,) instead of condemning them or shaming them, lovingly point out what Scripture says, and then follow the model of church discipline if necessary (which is designed to bring about reconciliation and not condemnation.)    otherwise you are part of the problem, and not the solution, and you should just either repent or go back to your church and sit in the pew and say, "God, thank You that i am not like those evil sinners!" and stay out of the public forums.  if you have removed and kept the logs and specks out of your eye, then you can help to remove the specks out of brothers and sisters in CHRIST.  moreover, when it comes to those that are lost, stand on biblical principles, but do it with humility and with love and grace instead of with judgment and condemnation.  if you need an example, look at the Saviour, who frequently ate and spent time with sinners.  they flocked to Him because He didn't judge and condemn them, but loved them despite their sin, and those who were the recipients of that love firsthand despite their sin repented and embraced His forgiveness.  He also loved us despite our sin, and when we truly saw His face, and realized our condition before Him and the depths of His mercy and grace, repentance came naturally.  and like paul said, if any does not receive the truth, don't waste your time casting pearls before swine, but shake the dust from off your heels as you leave.  in other words, agree to disagree, and stop trying to be the Holy Spirit, because you are not good at it, and the position is taken.