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In two days, on Wednesday morning, thousands of students will gather around flagpoles on campuses around the nation, maybe even around the world. At schools across the globe students will start their morning in praise of their Savior, celebration of their salvation, and prayer for their schools. The local school district here is no different.

In addition to the usual See-You-At-The-Pole morning event (Wednesday), our community had a pre-SYATP rally last night (Sunday). The youth pastors from the various churches in the community got together and planned a student-led, Christ-centered event to help stir the hearts of teenaged believers to take the Gospel onto their campus and be a city on a hill, starting with the SYATP gathering. The band was made of students. The testimonies were from students. The words shared were from students.

And we try to do this every year.

This year I almost couldn’t make it due to a family emergency, but circumstances allowed at the last minute. Coming in late, I was immediately aware of the sparse crowd occupying the auditorium. It was easily half what we’d had in years past, and as some may expect from a gathering of teenagers, several were milling about paying attention to anything but what was on the stage. Despite an energetic band, only a small group up front were “getting into it.” During a small group prayer time, the clusters of teens more readily chatted than prayed. Then afterwards as the students partook of pizza and soft drinks, conversations seemed to be about anything but spiritual matters.

This has ben my experience at far too many youth group events, and it can get discouraging. Many people, especially the students, don’t seem to realize the amount of work that goes into even a small group meeting much less large events. The behind-the-scenes work can be immense sometimes.

As the crowd dwindled and most had left, a fellow youth pastor from a church down the street was helping me load the ice chests and left-over drinks my church had provided for the event. My discouragement must have been plain on my face as I commented on the small attendance this year, because he acknowledged the fact with a “yeah, but …” smile as he produced his cell phone from his pocket.

He shared with me a text message he had received from a parent of one of his students just moments before. The young lady’s heart had been touched that very evening from a testimony shared by one of her peers. She was stirred to conviction over her need to live boldly for Christ on her campus and in her daily life.

Reading that simple few lines of text made all the discouragement melt away. It was my prayer that that experience was shared by many in attendance. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t.

Thinking on all the work that went into the event and all the people who dedicated their time and energy to it: from putting a band together and finding time to practice to finding students able and willing to give testimony and speak candidly before their peers to securing the venue and battling with audio/visual issues (there are always a/v issues), food and drinks, advertising, scheduling, and the 100 little things that you don’t even think of that need to happen for an event like this to come together.

We think of all of that and we may feel discouraged if it is not a rousing success. We dream of packed seats and tear soaked prayers expressing the joy of grace-broken hearts coming to know their Lord and Savior. We dream of lives changed and impact made. And the bigger the better.

We didn’t get that this night. We have in the past, but not this night. This night, as far as I know, one young lady’s life was touched. But that makes it all worth it. All the hours of planning. Errands run. Schedules balanced. Money spent. All absolutely worth it … even if only just for the one.

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So I was at the store the other day in line in front of what seemed like a very nice pair of ladies in Christian T-shirts from a local church which I happen to know is pretty conservative (that will make sense in a minute). They were friendly and flirted with my 6 month old little girl, and everything was great. As the line moved forward, their conversation turned to the recent same-sex marriage issues (anyone sick of all of that circus yet?). OK, I admit it. I was eavesdropping. Here is what one lady was saying, and the other was whole-heartedly agreeing.

Her brother had made comments in support of natural marriage, stating that homosexuality was a sin and that marriage was between a man and a woman. Her comments to her friend was that her brother was being a hypocrite and should not be judging other people’s relationships when he’s in the middle of divorce #2 and already shacking up with the woman who will likely be divorce #3 in the future.

OK, can we completely disregard the homosexuality and same-sex marriage issues? I know that’s hard since it has us all worked up lately, but please just set that aside for now.

There are 2 VERY important points I want to make, because I encounter these errors in thinking A LOT. Sadly, despite being illogical, they are also emotionally and rhetorically powerful, and so many people find them convincing. But here’s the deal, (1) a hypocrite is a very specific thing, and we throw that word around way too much. (2) Just because a person who says, “X is wrong” is also personally engaged in other wrong behavior, that has absolutely zero effect on whether or not X is wrong.

Now, according to Miriam-Webster, a hypocrite is “a person who claims or pretends to have certain beliefs about what is right but who behaves in a way that disagrees with those beliefs.” Saying one thing but doing another. Granted, I have no idea what this brother believes about marriage and divorce. I do know one thing he believes: marriage is between a man and a woman. And as best I can tell, he’s not breaking that rule. He’s not saying “marriage is between a man and a woman,” and then running off to marry another guy. He is making a statement about one type of misbehavior while engaging in another type of misbehavior. Maybe he believes that divorce is perfectly legit for the reasons he is doing it. I honestly don’t know. However, far too often we throw out the h-word when in reality, the person is not being hypocritical at all.

And even if this brother in this example IS being hypocritical, that is no basis for saying he has no place to state something is wrong. He could be right! If an alcoholic tells you that drinking too much can ruin your life, is he wrong? If I am living paycheck to paycheck, in debt up to my eyeballs and one lay-off away from my kids not being able to eat, and I say to you, “Everyone should do a budget and manage their finances,” I may be a hypocrite, but am I wrong?

Sometimes it is the person in the midst of the misbehavior who may have a profound statement to say that should ring all the more true to us. And sometimes, if even by sheer dumb luck an idiot stumbles up on a true claim … well, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.

The point is that each claim should be judged based on it’s own merits. And even someone in the midst of misbehavior can make a true claim about another type of misbehavior. In fact, if we had to be perfect in order to make any claims about the morality of an issue, none of us could ever have any grounds for ever making a moral claim. But we know that’s not true.

“How dare you judge that murderer, you hypocrite. You gossip and steal money from the register at work.” No. That would be ridiculous to say. But logically, that’s the exact same thing we do when we accuse others of being hypocritical or judgmental for making a moral statement when they themselves have moral misbehavior in their own life.

Somewhere, somehow, we let way too much emotion slip into our conversation on far too many issues. I think it would do us all well to learn the art of taking a step back and thinking about the situation before render judgment.

(which by the way, did you notice that making a reasoned judgment is not automatically “being judgmental?” But that’s a topic for a different blog.)

 

It seems like I can hardly go a day without reading a story or getting into a conversation about some violation of “separation of church and state.” This idea has become so prevelant in our culture, but your average man-on-the-street has no idea what it even means. For the average person this conjures up images of a theocracy where lawmakers sit in congress combing through The Bible to craft legislation.

This idea combined with the obnoxious redefinition of “tolerance” to mean accepting everyone’s choices and all ideas as equally valid, and now we have this bizaar idea that someone even expressing their religious views publicly is somehow offensive. Like nonbelievers will burst into flames upon hearing it. You even had people wanting a cross memorial removed, claiming the mere sight of it caused them to be physically ill.

Children are told not to bring Bibles to school, Jesus is banned from homework assignments, employees are forbidden from publicly displaying or talking about their beliefs, and recently in California, student organized Christian clubs were told they could not limit their leadership to only people who expressed the same beliefs.

The idea is that your religious beliefs are fine as long as you keep it in private. What you do in church is nobody else’s business, so keep it to yourself. ESPECIALLY if you want it to have an impact on law making or public policy.

Now, I don’t intend to argue this in detail here, but the idea of “separation of church and state” originally meant that the state was to be hands-off when it came to matters of the church. It did not mean that the church (or especially individuals who happened to go to church) could have no influence on the state. That is a new invention.

And I argue that it is one that secularists would do well to abandon for their own good, and the good of society.

If I am not supposed to base my position on political or puiblic policy issues on my religious convictions, then I cannot be opposed to things like murder or fraud. I cannot advocate and campaign for civil rights or caring for the poor.

My religious beliefs shape my views on these things. Mankind is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Because of this every man woman and child have an intrinsic value and worth that should be respected and protected.

Murder is a sin (Exodus 20:13) specifically because mankind has been made in the image of God (Genesis 9:6).

Fraud or deception / corruption is a sin (Exodus 20:16) because moral obligations are defined and grounded in the nature and character of God, who cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).

Civil rights is based on mankind being made in the image of God, the same as murder. Plus, since the Bible teaches that we all descended from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:20), that the so-called “races” were a result of the single human being scattered at Babel (Genesis 11), and Jesus Christ died to reconcile any who would believe from all of humanity – not any specific “special” people (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11; Revelation 5:9), this means that all people are to be treated equally. We are all equally valued and loved by our Creator, and all in need of His grace. Because of this, I see the need for civil right, that one “people” should not be slighted for the benefit of another.

God commands that we care for the poor (Deuteronomy 15:11; Psalm 41:1; James 2:1-5).

If it is not for the commands of The Lord and the religious beliefs and convictions that go with them, what reason do I have to care about these things? Especially to the point of wanting public policy to be shaped accordingly?

Sure there is “enlightened self-interest,” the idea that my life would be better if everyone’s life went better. Or the betterment of society. Or some culturally defined standards that such things should be fought/advocated.

But these are all horribly subjective, and ultimately have no more binding meaning than my preference for chocolate ice cream or cheesy sci-fi movies. Surely it does not take much effort to see that personal preference should not be the standard for policy that shapes a civilization and can have such drastic effects on so many people.

However, if I am not supposed to apply my religious beliefs to my influence, my voice, or my vote on legislative/policy matters, then to be consistent I would be reuired to not support civil rights or charity programs, and I could not oppose things like murder and fraud.

Is this really the direction people want our culture to go when they beat the drum of “separation of church and state?” Exclude religion from the public square, and this is what you have.

“If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” – Dostoevsky

If you’re anything like me, you are probably on social media way too muchThe crazy thing is, I originally got on MySpace, then Facebook, and others as they came about, as a means to stay in touch with the students in my youth group and help keep them informed of stuff. Yeah, right. Years later, that is probably the least of the things I do on social media.

And if you’re anything like me, you pobably get into way too many conversations that you likely shouldn’t. Arguing and debating have their place, but perhaps we do it a bit too much? That’s some soul searching each one of us has to do on our own.

Be that as it may, I get into a lot of discussions with atheists, skeptics and secularists. In a recent conversation about the proper role of religious belief in politics (a fun discussion for a different time), this particular secularist made a very telling remark. He said, “I don’t care if you’re a Muslim, Mormon, Catholic, Sikh, Hindu, Evangelical or whatever you are running for office as long as you don’t let it influence your thinking.”

This is textbook secularist thinking that just can’t grasp the fact that religious beliefs are beliefs exactly because the person thinks they are true. You can’t just turn that off.

A person’s religious beliefs answer the very foundational questions about life, morality, human nature and the world around us which shape how we think and view every other issue in life. You can no more separate out a person’s religious beliefs from their political views than you can separate out a person’s knowledge of grammar from how they write. Indeed any person who is claims to be able to turn off their religious convictions is proving that they don’t actually believe what they claim.

If you believe God exists, actually deep, to your core and convinced that God is absolutely real, you will necessarily process all information, decisions, moral choices, outlooks, etc. through that belief. Oh sure, you might be able to play some kind of hypothetical “what if?” game as a thought exercise, but let’s face it, if you are making decisions or considerations based on thinking that God does NOT exist, how sure are you really that He does?

Let’s look at a more practical daily example. Do you believe the old addage, “Garbage in, Garbage out?” The idea is that what you put into your mind will inevitably come out in your personality, and so you should guard what you allow in. Do you actually guard what goes in? Claiming to believe one thing and doing another is usually called hypocrisy.

So, essentially what we have from our secularist friend (and he is by no means alone in this thinking) is that in order to function in a public capacity, whether as a govt official or even a business owner (I’ve heard it argued there, too), then you must embrace hypocrisy.

You can believe whatever you want, as long as you don’t act on it. Sorry, but that’s not how it works. You cannot simply turn off religious convictions. However, that seems to be a central tenet of secularism, that belief can be turned off and on at will.

Could you imagine if the opposite were true? What if we were in a theocratic society? Could we tell the secularist, if you open a business or are elected to office, you have to turn off your secularism and make decisions based off of religious beliefs? That’d be absurd.

You cannot expect people to simply abandon or set aside their core beliefs about reality just because they step into public. You can be sure that the secularists, atheists and materialists aren’t doing that. A person’s beliefs being based on religious convictions does not make them any less valid or worthy of a place in the public arena.

When we look at our public life and think we are worthless or don’t match up, or when others see the person we are in public and treat us as not-good-enough … stop and honestly think for a moment.

What if they ALSO knew your inner thoughts and feelings? If we could record all of your thoughts, daydreams and feelings and project them up on a jumbo-tron for people to gather and watch, would you want to be in the room? No way! None of us would.

Why not? Because as bad as we may feel or look on the outside, let’s be honest, … it gets much darker and uglier on the inside.

So, if I know this is true about me, and someone says (through word, implication, body language or behavior) something negative, insulting or offensive about me, then my response can honestly be, “You don’t even know the half of it!” “You think I’m a jerk? Dude, you should have heard what I WANTED to say!” (Not that I should even be thinking it, but that is just further proof of my point that we don’t measure up to any standard of “good” that we would like to claim for ourselves.)

So I don’t measure up to the standards or expectations of others … or even myself? So what? I DAILY fail and fall short of the standard of the Creator of the universe. Something is very very wrong in me. Something is broken. Something is flawed. I don’t want the things I should want. I don’t do the things I should do.

Have I let you down or offended you? Did I let myself down? Big deal, what’s that compared to God, whom I let down, insult and defame on a regular basis? Despite my efforts to not do so. My Creator made me for a purpose, and I am broken and don’t fulfill that purpose.

Wow, that’s depressing. How does this possibly make me feel good?

I’m glad you asked.

However bad or low someone else makes me feel … or I make myself feel … I know that I deserve far worse and far more ridicule and scorn than I am getting. Especially from God. Because God doesn’t give me what I deserve. Through Jesus Christ He gives me Grace and Mercy and Love and Peace. Not because I earned it or deserve it or have anything to offer Him in return. Simply because He’s God.

And that’s just how He is.

He gives Grace to the humble (James 4:6). But He opposes the proud. Pride is what puffs us up and wants a higher self-image than we deserve.

Someone insults or mocks me or depression wants to take me … “Yeah, I know. You’re right. I’m actually worse than you think (or even I realize), but I’m trying to be better. I’m not there yet, but God’s working with me, and He loves me. … Me! He loves ME! How crazy is that?!”

And knowing that despite it all, that He loves me enough to offer me grace and forgiveness I can find some peace … knowing that while I may be flawed and broken now, one day I will be whole again.

You don’t talk about politics and religion in polite company. That’s the conventional wisdom, anyway. The idea being that these are such devisive topics that it will quicly turn impolite. However, I would say that to never consider or discuss such important, life-affecting issues with at least close friends and family may be downright rude. Of course, if opinions were money I would be both wealthy and generous.

I once had a systematic theology book given to me titled “Practical Theology”. It was sitting on my coffee table, and a friend commented something like “‘Practical Theology’, isn’t that a contradiction?” I was floored. This was by no means a dimwitted, shallow-minded, surface-level thinker. She was the sort to think things through and not shy from tough issues. So hearing her claim that a person’s thoughts on God had no practical purpose was astonishing. Once I unleashed a rant on her stating the error of her ways (maybe not the wisest approach), she did back track a little and conceded some, but still, this has rolled around in my brain for years now.

However, I am understanding more and more where this idea comes from. We live in a bizaar type of cultural skitzophrenia where we buy into both naturalism and relativism at the same time.

Naturalism, usually taught through public education, claims that only what can be observed in the physical world is real and (in most cases) denies any non-natural, super-natural or metaphysical explanations of things. If such things do exist they are perceived as irrelevant.

Relativism on the other hand, usually gained through media/entertainment, is all about experience and feelings, claiming that we can’t really know anything for sure so everything is true/good/etc. as long as we believe it is.

So we are trained in school that supernatural things don’t matter (if they even exist), and trained by pop-culture to go with what we feel. “So God, if He even exists, is not something I feel like thinking about (you know with the judgment and morality thing), so therefore it doesn’t matter because I choose what is important for me … and besides I can’t see Him anyway, if He’s even real.”

Is it any wonder that even more deeply thinking people would consider the study of God as an impractical pursuit?

One of my favorite quotes is from AW Tozer in “Knowledge of the Holy” where he explains, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us,” and “because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological.”

There is no more practical question for human beings than what we believe about God, who He is, and who we are related to Him. That understanding will shape every other belief, choice and aspect of our lives. However, since He is both outside of nature and absolutely objective, this runs against the grain of both the naturalism and the relativism in which we culturally walk daily.

Our culture screams at us to not worry about or not waste our time with seeking God or thinking about theological things, meanwhile our heart whispers to us that we were made for something more than this world has to offer. As CS Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

With that in mind, knowledge of God and related things (theology) becomes the most practical thing in our lives. That being the case, how could we NOT discuss this with others?

  

So a while back I had to deal with some insurance and medical stuff for my daughter. Through some mess up or the other, the insurance will only speak with me and not my wife. While we are trying to get it changed, the process takes time. My daughter has a persistent rash and some other symptoms and is overdue for her 3 year checkup, so we are trying to get her in ASAP. Unfortunately, the new insurance had her down with a doctor who isn’t taking new patients. I had to find a doctor who is taking new patients and accepts the insurance then call the insurance and get that set up and then call the doctor and make an appointment. They set the appointment for Monday, but my wife wanted in sooner, so I had to call to see about getting a sooner one, etc. etc.

My job allows me a small amount of freedom and flexibility. In the midst of all of this, I am at work trying to get work done but also have some school work that I would rather spend my “flexible” time doing. Long hold times, bureaucratic muck-ups, lost study opportunity and rude CSRs were all wearing on my already raw nerves. So where did my selfish and pride filled heart direct all that angst?

At my wife, of course.

Here I am working to pay the bills, studying to further my ‘career’, I have a sermon to write and errands to run of my own. I am busy doing good and worthy things. How dare she not be able to take time out of her day and take care of this! Doesn’t she realize how busy I am?! ARGH!!!

Then that pesky Holy Spirit tapped me on my spiritual shoulder and reminded me that I am to love my wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25): He sacrificed Himself for her. My pregnant wife (who’s “morning sickness” doesn’t seem to know when morning is over) is home with a rather rambunctious and hyper toddler who’s bum is itchy and allergies are in full swing. Throw on top of that the seemingly endless unpacking we are doing on top of trying to keep the house clean and maintaining some level of sanity.

And here I was, upset and frustrated because I had to use my ‘precious time’ dealing with aggravation and stress of doctors’ offices and insurance providers. My selfishness was saying that what was needed was for my already-at-wits-end wife to be the one to deal with this mess and this stress and leave me to my cushy job and my stressful-but-highly-enjoyable school work. What a jerk!

No, I am happy that God allowed me to handle the mess and stress of dealing with overworked nurses and “I hate my life” customer service reps. Its those moments when we are able to say, “Here let me bear that for you” that we see real Grace and real Love lived out.

If my frustration and aggravation allowed in even some small way for my wife’s day to be a little better … thank you, Lord for allowing me to suffer through that.