Reality Bites

There is a lot of talk about fake friends right now. It seems like every time I scroll through my Facebook feed I see multiple memes about the topic. That seems more than a bit ironic to me seeing how social media itself is a huge enabler when it comes to NOT reflecting the reality of one’s own life. Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about:

There is also a lot of talk about being “genuine” and “real” within Christian circles. I grew up in and am still attending a Christian church, and one thing that has always been a recurring topic is the need for us to be real and accountable with each other. In the Bible, the church is described as one body that is supposed to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Basically, we are told to do life together and support one another.

This all sounds great on the surface. Fake friends ARE a source of pain. Members of the body of Christ SHOULD support one another and feel comfortable sharing their struggles in an open and honest way. The problem is that as humans we do a famously bad job of being truly real with one another, both as Christians and as people in general.

Experiencing the loss of my dad over the summer really highlighted this for me. When I share my raw feelings about it with most people I can feel a palpable sense of discomfort in the air. Most folks feel the need to try and fill the void with words that are less than helpful (see my previous post: “What Not to Say”). From others I sense that they are waiting for me to “get over it” so our social acquaintance can go back to shallow surface banter. Still others ignore my grief completely, just pretending that it doesn’t exist so that our interaction is easier for them to navigate.

While I’m not proud of it, what happens is that I ultimately put on a facade. I say things like, “I’m doing okay” or “It’s getting better” even when I feel internally gutted. I come to the point where people’s responses to my true feelings become so exhausting that I just want to skip it. I’d rather feign happiness than be patronized, ignored, or made to feel like an inconvenience.

What makes it extra frustrating is that I know in the past I have behaved in the same way toward others who have shared their struggles with me. I’ve given pat answer advice or glossed over the suffering of others because it made me uncomfortable. It pains me to admit it, but I’ve contributed to the problem.

So what do we do? How can we get better at this?

I believe the answer is fairly simple, though actually putting it into practice proves to be the challenge.

We have to give each other permission to not be okay.

Life is tough. We know this. Yet we deny it all the time and perpetuate the lie to each other every day. We ask each other how we are doing, answer some variation of “fine” and then move on. We don’t really want to hear how the other person is because then we might have to admit that we too are struggling. It’s much easier to present a polished and edited version of ourselves to the outside world.

We have to come to the realization that it’s okay to struggle. The pressures and troubles of life are too much sometimes. That’s just how it goes. We should never feel inadequate or shameful because we are struggling. To be human is to struggle.

On the other side of the coin, we should not look down on others when the cracks in their armor start to show. We should not put pressure on others to “be okay.” We need to create space for those who are in the weeds of life to go through their own process and heal in their own time.

So I’ll make a deal with you. If you ask me how I’m doing I’m going to be honest with you. I’m going to tell you that grief is still a very real and gnawing presence in my life. I’m going to tell you that I feel overwhelmed with trying to be a good father and a good husband. I’m going to tell you that some days I have to fight an internal battle just to get out of bed.

I won’t need you to give me answers and try to fix me. I’ll simply need to you listen and empathize. And then, I promise to do the same for you.

And if you don’t want to know how I’m actually doing, please do me a favor. Just don’t ask. I have no desire to play the polite “I’m doing fine” game. Pretending to be okay while I’m internally imploding does nothing but make things worse. I’d rather just know at the outset that you don’t genuinely care. That makes it easier for both of us.

Let’s try to do better because if we’re honest, none of us are truly okay.

 

Dad Isn’t Babysitting

My wife was away. She had left a few hours ago for a weekend retreat with some friends. So that night it was just me and my three boys!

Since she had left a couple of hours before supper time it was up to me to decide what to feed the kids. I went with English Muffin pizzas and Chinese leftovers (in my experience it’s always good to have a backup plan). After dinner, we had a dance party in the living room and then a short movie with popcorn. Finally, we headed upstairs for the sometimes grueling bedtime routine. Brushing teeth, changing diapers, multiple stories: it can all get out of control quickly if you don’t reign things in. There were a couple mini tantrums but all in all, it went fairly smoothly.

Now, before you start handing me “Father of the Year” awards for taking the kids so my wife could have an overdue and much-deserved break, let me ask you this: What was so remarkable about what I did tonight?

Nothing. The answer is nothing.

These are my children. This is what I am supposed to do. Their mother and I bear equal responsibility for them.

When you decide to have kids you (sometimes unknowingly) sign up for a few metric tons of work. You are volunteering to be a part of creating and raising the next generation. You’re responsible for their well-being, development, and growth. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a mom or a dad. If you have kids it is incumbent upon you to take care of them.

Unfortunately somewhere along the line, our culture gave dads a pass on this. The stereotype of the non-engaged father sitting in the Lazy Boy and leaving the bulk of the work of child-rearing to his wife has become all too common. So much so that it is ingrained into our thinking.

Case in point. The day that my wife was scheduled to leave for the retreat I mentioned earlier, I was having a conversation with someone about it. When they found out I would be alone with the boys they said:

“So, you’re babysitting the kids then?”

I wish I could say this was the first time I’d heard this type of thing, but if I did that I would be lying.

Why do we assume that when a dad is alone with his kids he’s just babysitting them? As if being a father is a temporary condition to be remedied when mom gets home? If you don’t think the above question is sexist and inappropriate, try gender swapping it. Can you imagine going up to a frazzled mom in a grocery store and asking, “So, how’s the babysitting going?” Of course not! You see the kids with her and assume she’s their caregiver, going about her normal routine. Yet somehow a dad doing the same thing is an anomaly.

I was not babysitting my kids that night. I was engaging in an ongoing process called parenting. I was taking my job as one of the primary providers and protectors of my children seriously.

Being a dad is the toughest job I’ve ever had, and I am far from mastering it. I fail in new ways every single day and I’m constantly second guessing myself. But I can say that I am working hard to try and raise my kids to become mature and contributing members of society.

Babysitting is something you do for a couple of hours, possibly for pay, so that somebody else’s parents can take a break. Parenting is a lifelong calling and responsibility. The two should NEVER be thought of in the same light.

If you have preconceived notions about the role of dads in the lives of their children I hope this post has given you pause. And if you ARE a dad that sees your job as little more than that of a babysitter, shame on you. Your kids need you to be involved in their lives. There is already an overabundance of deadbeat dads. Any man can have a child, but it takes purpose and determination to be a father.

 

 

What Not to Say

As many of you know, my sweet father passed away about two months ago after an arduous and ultimately losing battle with colon cancer. It’s been an incredibly hard time in my life, and my first real tangle with deep and overwhelming grief. Not a day or moment passes in which the loss is not on my mind to some degree. I was very close to my dad, and his absence in my life feels like the absence of part of myself.

One thing I inherited from dad was his emotional transparency. If he was happy, sad, angry, or anything in between, you knew it. He didn’t really know how to hide how he was feeling, and neither do I. If you follow me on Facebook you know that I’ve been very open about how I have been dealing with this loss, and it’s been a rough road.

As friends and family see me struggle, of course they are naturally inclined to want to help. And while I truly appreciate this, I have also become keenly aware of how unskilled most people are at offering support to those who are grieving. Things can be said, in person or online, that are not only not helpful but can actually be harmful. I have always noticed this, but being the one who is grieving has made me even more sensitive to it. I understand that people mean well, but sometimes just meaning well doesn’t take away the sting of a comment that was not properly thought through.

As one who has now been on the receiving end of some of these comments, here are some examples of what you should not say to someone going through a rough time.

1. “I understand what you’re going through.”

This has been one of the most common things I’ve heard, and I get it. When you’re with someone who is experiencing a loss, you want to empathize. If you’ve gone through something similar, it’s natural to want to use that experience to relate to your friend. Maybe you have dealt with the exact same situation or lost the exact same family member. Doesn’t that give you extra insight into what your friend is going through? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is no.

The reason this breaks down is the fact that we are all individuals. While the stages of grief are similar for everyone, the way in which we experience those stages are totally different. We all have our own unique emotional makeup and will therefore respond to similar experiences differently.

My own experience with grief has been a confusing mishmash of emotions that seemingly has no pattern. One moment I’m angry, the next I’m in denial, and the next I’m weeping. I never know which feeling is going to hit me at which time. If it’s that random for me, there’s no way you are going to be able to know exactly what I’m feeling at any given time.

When you say you understand what I’m going through, it feels like you are ignoring my individuality and trying to speed past my grief. It’s like you see me walking down the street, pull your car over, and force me inside because you assume I’m hitchhiking. After all, you had to hitchhike once so that’s what I must be doing. But you never consider that I’m walking because I need the fresh air.

Unless you’re a psychic, there’s really no way you can know how I’m feeling at any particular moment, nor can I know the same about you. The better bet is to come alongside one another with that understanding.

2. “When my __________ passed away, I…”

Please hear me on this. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to share your experience of loss with a hurting friend. In fact, it can be helpful for them to know that you have experienced grief and come out the other side. But you do need to be careful not to make the conversation about you.

I’ve had several conversations in which well meaning folks have spent so much time telling me how they dealt with grief that they skipped over my feelings entirely. One individual actually told me that when one of their loved ones died, it took them three months to “stop being sad and get on with their life.” That stopped me in my tracks because I’m fairly certain I will have some degree of sadness about my dad’s passing until the day I see him again.

While insensitivity to another’s feelings is nearly never purposeful in these instances, it’s not helpful to assume that your hurting friend needs to be told how to grieve. You dealt with it in your way and they will need to deal with it in theirs.

3. “Insert Cliche or Biblical Quote Here”

I would never have thought this needed to be pointed out, but judging from the amount of times it has happened to me recently apparently it does: Simply repeating a well known cliche or a Bible verse is not usually helpful to someone who is grieving. Lack of hearing the right pithy saying or scripture reference is not the problem. The problem is the immense burden of unbearable grief and pain that your friend is experiencing. It is not a problem that words can solve.

I’ll give you an example. As a Christian I do believe that one day I will see my dad again. He knew the Lord and I’m certain he is now in the presence of Jesus. That knowledge can certainly be a comfort, but simply telling me, “you will see him again” does not take away the immediate pain of loss and separation that I feel. There are even times when that type of statement increases the pain. Even though I know this is the last time I will ever have to say goodbye to my dad, if I live a somewhat average lifespan it may be another thirty to forty years or more before I get to see him again. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

I do draw strength from scripture and my faith. But most times if I am expressing sadness about my loss, I need a listening ear, not the perfect Bible verse or truism. Rather than feeling like you need to “say the right thing” I would encourage you to simply listen and acknowledge your friend’s suffering. Sometimes the most helpful response is simply, “you’re right, that sucks. I’m so sorry.”

4. “Let me know if there is anything I can do.”

This is one of those knee jerk responses people give when they hear of a tragedy. And the sentiment is awesome. Having empathy and wanting to help are great responses and I would never say anything to the contrary.

The issue with this is not the intention, but the practicality. If you’re going to make this type of offer, just be sure you are willing to follow through. Do you really want to make yourself available for me to call you at 3:00 am when I can’t sleep? Are you prepared to give up a weekend to help me do some work on my Mom’s house? Can you bear the burden of listening to me vent and cry for as long as I may need?

If you are not able or willing to do these things, that is totally understandable. We all have our own lives and responsibilities which we must deal with first. Just make sure you are not offering to help, then going MIA when it’s crunch time. Better not to make the offer than to offer and not be able to follow through.


So what is the proper response? How can you actually be of help to a friend or family member that is dealing with loss? The answer may sound over simplistic, but sometimes simplicity is where the greatest truth lies: Just be there.

Don’t feel like you have to say the right thing, give the right advice, or behave in the right way. Simply show up and listen. Walking through the hard times with your friend is the most loving and caring thing you can do for them because at least that way, they don’t have to deal with it alone. This is more valuable than anything you can say and it will be appreciated more than you can know.

And when you do speak, just be mindful of what you say so as to not compound the pain that your loved one is already feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Non-Conservative Christian

Words matter. There is a reason we love to laugh at auto correct errors from our smartphones. It’s amusing when we think we are communicating  one thing, but our phone sends a message with a totally different meaning. Using the proper words in cases like this makes all the difference.

As our culture shifts, some words even begin to take on different shades of meaning. Sometimes the definition changes altogether. A recent example of this is “literally”. To be honest this one annoyed me at first, but I have come to realize that the new popular use of this word is probably not going away any time soon. What I’m referring to of course is the use of the term “literally” to describe something that is ironic or symbolic. I notice this on social media mostly (“I am literally starving”, or “I had to wait literally all day at the dentist office”). Understanding the intended meaning is important when interpreting such statements.

The words I use to describe my beliefs and views are equally as important. As a follower of Jesus, I am convinced that it is crucial to think critically about what my words and actions are communicating to those around me. Just throwing around terms that have historically been associated with Christians can cause confusion or unintended offense.

There are two terms I want to deal with here because I believe they have been hijacked by extreme elements in our culture. More and more I am distancing myself from these labels because they no longer correctly describe who I am as a person or what I stand for.

The words I’m speaking of are Conservative and Republican.

I was raised in an environment in which the above words were almost always associated with Christianity. If not used as synonyms, they were definitely adjectives attached to the Christian moniker. “Conservative Christian” is an incredibly common phrase that I grew up hearing and is still extensively used in the media and many churches. When I was younger, I really did have this notion that the Republican party was the Christian party! Democrats were at worst evil and at best opposed to Jesus and Biblical values.

Just as an aside here, I want to make it clear that this was not something my family taught me. These sentiments were things that I picked up from the church culture around me. I basically grew up in church and Christian school and then I attended a Christian college. While I would never imply that everyone around me during those times subscribed to this worldview, I would say that it was definitely the prevailing and acceptable one. Anyone describing themselves in different terms was usually looked down on, and I never really felt comfortable considering differing opinions on social issues (and certainly not verbalizing any) for fear of negative social consequences.

Now, as I’ve grown older and developed my own ideas and beliefs, I have come to realize that I no longer want or need to use these labels because they simply do not reflect who I am anymore. And it’s not necessarily me that has drastically changed, but the terms themselves that have taken on connotations that I do not wish to be associated with.

What Changed?

If you had asked me just a few years ago what my political leanings were, I would have told you that I was a Conservative Republican. The reason for this would have been twofold. First, my personal convictions would normally have fallen more on the conservative side concerning most social issues. Second, when it came to my views on the government I believed that it should be accountable and not too big. I wasn’t a fan of Uncle Sam micro managing my everyday life.

These core principles are why I identified the way I did and they have not changed for me. Yet it seems as though they are no longer the guiding forces of modern conservatism. To put it simply, I can no longer reconcile my personal beliefs with what I see going on in the Republican and Conservative camps right now.

Here are a few examples of recent issues that highlight the inconsistencies which I find intolerable:

Immigration

While President Trump’s views on this subject are extreme (at least in my view), I was struggling with the issue long before he took office. Months ago, when President Obama was working to allow more Syrian refugees into the United States, I began to become disillusioned by the responses I was seeing from many who would call themselves “Conservative Christians.”

The sentiments I was seeing were along the lines of, “We can’t let these foreigners in because some of them might be Muslims and some might want to hurt us” or “these people will just come in and mooch off the system.” Presently, these types of opinions have become emboldened by the current administration’s use of an executive order banning people from certain countries from entering the U.S. These responses to people in need are diametrically opposed to my faith in Jesus and my citizenship in this country, and I’ll explain why.

As a Christian, I believe that I need to model my life on the actions and teachings of Jesus Christ. Opposing the idea of helping people in need doesn’t fit into that worldview. Jesus spent most of his time on this earth with those whom society shunned, and he himself was blackballed from the religious elite of the time.

In fact, there is a TON of teaching in the Bible related specifically to helping refugees and outsiders. For example:

*Deuteronomy 10:18 clearly shows God’s heart on the subject: “He executes justice for the orphan and the widows, loves the foreigner, and gives them food and clothing. 

*Jesus himself weighed in on the subject by saying that how we treat the less fortunate shows how much we love him: I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.” (Matthew 25:43).

*Hebrews 13:2-3 is also pretty clear: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.”

These are merely a few of the numerous examples throughout scripture about helping foreigners, strangers, and the down and out! It is a thread that can be traced through the entire Bible.

And as far as worrying about whether these folks want to hurt us or take advantage of our tax dollars, once again I have to defer to Jesus. He came to this earth KNOWING that he would be killed by his enemies, yet he still showed up. He loved the very people that actively worked to kill him. His teaching on giving to those who ask is also very clear: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 30:27-31). I don’t see Jesus saying that you should not give to someone because you think they don’t deserve it. 

From the standpoint of being a American citizen, I have to remember that this county is built on cultural diversity. The majority of us have ancestors that immigrated to this country to start a new life. Unless you are full blooded native American, someone in your family tree traveled here from another country at some point. How can we then deny others the same opportunity?

So personally, my feelings on this no longer align to what many in the conservative camp are advocating.

Obsession with Guns

With the recent shootings in this country (unfortunately it’s probably true that whenever you end up reading this there will be recent examples, even if it’s months from now) the debate about gun control continues to heat up. It’s one of those issues that tends to polarize people, with both extremes seemingly having the loudest voices.

Personally I am in the middle on this one. By no means do I think all guns should be banned. I am absolutely fine with people who are trained in their safe and proper use carrying them. However, I see no valid reason for ordinary citizens to have weapons of war. I don’t think gun laws will solve the whole problem and I am aware that criminals will keep being criminals even if new laws are passed (that’s why they are criminals, after all), but I do think we need to tighten up on background checks and ban assault weapons. These are just my personal feelings on this.

My greater concern with this issue is the obsession I have seen from some conservatives about guns. I simply cannot understand it. The same folks whom I hear so vocally opposing abortion because they are “pro life” will then turn around and defend the unrestricted ownership of guns that are designed specifically to kill multiple people efficiently! That blows my mind! If you are going to say that you are pro life, you have to apply that to all life equally! The 49 lives taken in that Orlando night club are just as important and precious as our recently born baby boy!

I just can’t tow the conservative line on this one. I am not in favor of owning guns just for the sake of owning guns. And I don’t feel it should be easy for somebody to obtain weapons designed for war. They have no place in everyday life, and all the lives that are being lost in this country could not be more conclusive evidence of this.

I know this one is a hot button issue, and if you disagree with me that’s absolutely fine. My purpose here is not to argue but to share why I do not identify with certain viewpoints, and this is one of them.

The Rise of Donald Trump

Some folks have expressed surprise at the rise of Donald Trump, but  I don’t believe that he is an anomaly. He is merely symptomatic of what has been happening in the Republican party for quite a while now. Anger at the changing culture, progressive policies, and “political correctness” have fomented a desire for an authoritarian leader to step in and right all of the perceived wrongs.

I want to say that I am shocked by the support Mr. Trump has received from some in the Conservative Christian camp, and to some degree I still am, but for the most part this could also be seen coming. He is the logical culmination of decades of Christian Nationalism, which sees the United States of America as not only a Christian nation, but a special country chosen by God. This is in no way a Biblical notion, but that has not stopped it from being proliferated in evangelical circles for years.

Understanding these political and religious ideologies is vital in making sense of Donald Trump’s success. If you believe that the nation you reside in was founded as a Christian Theocracy and you are uncomfortable with people and lifestyles that differ from your own, Trump is your perfect candidate. He is the hero who will protect you from those of strange faiths and nations, and he will restore the good old days when everyone thought, believed, and worshiped just as you did.

While I understand how we got to this point, I believe that as a follower of Jesus, I need to rise above the non-biblical ideas that have led us here, and in so doing, reject Donald Trump as a moral, ethical, or Christian choice for President. I will explain:

The problem with Christian Nationalism: I see two major failures with this outlook. First, it simply is not biblical. Scripture makes it clear that Israel is a special and chosen nation to God, but no other country has that status. Second, while the United States was founded on many principles that are in keeping with biblical teachings, it was never established as a Christian country. As a matter of fact, religious freedom was one of the main reasons that settlers from Europe made the treacherous voyage across the Atlantic in the first place. The founders were actively trying to avoid the legalism, corruption, and control that comes with state sanctioned religion.

Culture Wars: One of President Trump’s greatest appeals during the election was the notion of, “Making America Great Again.” He has promised to restore us to a simpler time. My major problem with this is that I believe throughout the years, The United States has made some great social justice strides that should not be backtracked. Without going into detail here, I will just say that the fight for equality on many fronts has been a long and arduous one. I would probably be labeled “Liberal” for some of my specific views here, but suffice to say I would hate to see any ground lost in these areas.

Political Correctness: Another thing President Trump promised to do away with is, “political correctness.” My problem here is the broadness of that term. Yes, I do believe that one can go overboard with tiptoeing around issues to avoid offense. However, especially as a believer in Jesus, I also believe that I should always seek to be respectful and loving. Not every situation makes it necessary for me to spout my opinion and just let the chips fall where they may.  As I share God’s truth, I need to be concerned first of all with doing so in love. “Political correctness” is not always a bad thing, sometimes it means just using tact and grace in my speech.

One of my big concerns with Mr. Trump is how his rhetoric on this has emboldened those on the fringes of society to spout their racist and bigoted ideas more openly. That can lead to nothing good.

Qualifications of a Leader: I have heard many Christians refer to Donald Trump as, “a good Christian man” or “a Christian leader.” Well, the Bible has a lot to say about leadership. If a person voted for Mr. Trump for political or economic reasons I may disagree but I understand the reasoning. However, just reading the clear teachings on leadership and wisdom throughout the Bible preclude any notion of lifting him up as an example of Christian leadership. Below are merely a few examples of what God’s Word has to say on the subject.

  • Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)
  • Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)
  • The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, But the mouth of fools spouts folly. (Proverbs 15:2)
  • He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. (Proverbs 17:27-28)

From even this small cross-section of verses, I don’t see how one could point to Donald Trump as a Christian example. He just doesn’t fit that bill in any way, shape or form.


So what am I getting at here? Simply this:

As a Christian, my identity is tied to Christ, not a political party. My allegiance should be first and foremost to Him, and that should color everything else that I do. In the realm of politics, as in any other, I should critically think about my stances and opinions through this lens. For me, that means not just jumping on the Conservative bandwagon because that is what I am expected to do. It means prayerfully considering each individual issue and studying the scriptures as I form my opinions.

If you, like me, are a follower of Jesus who doesn’t feel comfortable under the umbrella of modern Conservatism, I want to provide some encouragement. You are not alone. Others like you are out there. Keep having those tough conversations with other Christians and keep fighting for the causes you care about!

If you find yourself on the opposite side of the spectrum, this is for you too. Please realize that just because you are a Christian and hold certain political positions, that does not necessarily mean that all other Christians must agree with you. Don’t write somebody off just because they are a Democrat or too liberal for your taste. It might even be healthy to broaden your own viewpoint by considering the opinions and arguments of those you don’t agree with.

As the body of Christ in the world, we need each other. I can learn from you and you can learn from me. I believe it can be extremely beneficial when we lay down our preconceptions and truly listen to one another. If we do so with the goal of knowing Jesus better and seeking to have a more Biblical worldview, I think God will bless that. Let’s just not get our citizenship in this world confused with our true identity in Christ.

Moving to Canada

With the race for the presidency hurdling toward what seems to be the inevitable train wreck of Trump vs. Clinton, it seems like a lot of folks are losing their minds. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m no fan of either candidate. I’ve pretty much decided that if I do vote this time around, it will be a write in that actually reflects my views and values. That being said, the winner of the general election in November will in no way change my outlook on life. I will not be moving out of the country, nor will I be living in fear and frustration here at home. I sincerely believe that even with the ridiculous candidates we have this year, the presidential election is not something that is worth stressing about. Nor is it worth alienating friends over by using it to promote my personal views. It’s just an election.

As I say this I want you to know that I’m not taking my freedom lightly. I am not downplaying the importance of the person holding the most powerful office in the country. I am certainly not advocating for people to disengage from the process or fail to pay attention to current events. As a Christian, I strongly believe in staying informed and being involved in the culture in which I live. But in part, it is also my faith which allows me to stay sane in the current political climate. Here are some reasons why I don’t think it’s helpful to respond to the election mess with stress, anger, or fear.

God Is Still God

Here is a question specifically directed at my fellow Christians: If (insert your least favorite candidate here) gets elected, do you still believe that God is in control? 

The Bible is very clear that we serve a sovereign God who rules the universe. Nothing takes him by surprise. It is also very specific in its teaching that all authority figures operate because God allows them to. Romans 13:1 clearly states, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” This includes political rulers. Let’s not forget that the book of Romans was written to Christians in, you guessed it, Rome. Emperor Nero was in charge at the time and had a nasty habit of killing Christians in ultra violent ways. If the Bible says that even a man like Nero was placed in his position by God, what do we have to worry about?

I will be the first to admit that I frequently don’t understand why God allows certain people to obtain positions of authority. But I have to believe that he is looking at things on a far grander scope than I could ever imagine. The Christian church ended up spreading like wildfire in the time of Nero, and one of the most quoted books of the Bible was written during that time.

In the words of a song from one of my favorite musicians, “God is God and I am not. I can only see a part of the picture he’s painting. God is God and I am man, so I’ll never understand it all. For only God is God.”* He knows what he is doing, and whether they know it or not, the leaders of the world are simply playing their part in his plan.

If God has been in control throughout all of history, why should I worry about a single presidential election? No matter who wins, God will be the one who allows the victory. He will use the next president to accomplish things for his glory that I may never understand or know about. Understanding this takes a lot of pressure off and gives me peace at a time when I don’t see any options that I like.

We’ve Got it Good

It seems like during every election there are folks who threaten to move out of the country if a particular candidate wins. “I’m moving to Canada,” is one of the most common cries of disgruntled voters who think they might not get their way. That certainly hasn’t changed this time around. In fact, the caliber of the candidates is probably to blame for the fact I’ve heard this more than ever lately!

I know that such statements are a knee jerk reaction, and I even understand the sentiment. However, this type of thinking can distract us from the fact that here in the United States, we’ve got it good! I’ve been blessed to be able to go on several missions trips to a handful of foreign countries and I can tell you from personal experience that there are many people who would give up everything they have for a chance to come here!

Whether it was the families living in squalor in the Ukraine left jobless and hopeless by the fall of the Soviet Union or the parents in the Dominican Republic who offered to send their children home with us; much of the world still looks at our nation as a beacon of hope and freedom. The recent refugee crisis highlighted this once again, as families sought to escape the terrorism and violence in their home country.

How crazy must it sound to someone without freedom and basic human necessities to hear an American to say they are going to move away because they don’t like a political leader? In many nations across the world, speaking out in a negative way about the government means prison and even death! There are no government assistance programs for those who need help in these countries, nor are there many opportunities to better oneself and seek a brighter future.

Before we throw a fit and decide that we don’t want to live in this country anymore, we do well to consider the millions of people around the world who would literally die for the choices and opportunities we take for granted every day.

Four Years Later…

No matter what happens, we will all do this again in four years time. I’m as frustrated as anyone about the choice I am presented with at this moment, but it’s not my last chance. Lord willing, in 2020 we will start the process all over again. The president will be be trying to keep the position. Their opponent will be busy telling us all how that person has failed in office and how we can’t afford “four more years” of the same.

Our political system is set up with checks and balances for a reason. The term of the presidency is one such limit. Whether Trump or Clinton win the day has no bearing on the length of time that they are allowed in the White House. You will have the opportunity to vote for or against a continuation of the incumbent in four years. If you like the work they have done at that point, great! If not, you have the option to throw your support behind someone that you believe can unseat them.

In other words it’s not the end of the world, and it’s not the end of  America. Presidents tend to have a consistent turnover rate.


In conclusion, I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all need to chill out a bit. It’s great to participate in your democracy and make sure your voice is heard, but there is a difference between that and being an alarmist. Life will go on after November. God will still be on his throne. You will still live in a country in which you have the freedom to read these thoughts, and post your own should you disagree.

The world is not ending. Don’t listen to those who would use fear and anger to divide us. We still live in a a great country and we are all in this together!

 

* “God is God,” by Steven Curtis Chapman

 

Boycotting Life

With the recent change in its bathroom policy (allowing people to use whichever restroom they most identify with), Target has come under fire from many who do not agree with the store’s stance. In addition to being decried by many in the conservative Christian camp, the retail giant is now the object of a boycott spearheaded by an organization claiming to be representative of Christians families: The American Family Association. According to the AFA’s official website, there are over 1 million signatures on the conveniently named “pledge to boycott Target” that they have created.

As a Christian desiring to be a positive influence in the culture in which I live, I feel compelled to ask what I believe to be a crucial question in this situation.

How will boycotting a department store show the love of Jesus? 

As far as I can tell, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with those who do not know him is the entire purpose of the christian church in general and individual Christians specifically. I could make a sound biblical case for this, but there is so much teaching on the topic that I will just recommend that you read any book in the New Testament. At some point, you are bound to run into verses that instruct those of us who know Jesus to take any and all opportunities to share him with others. It’s my opinion that showing the world what we are FOR is much more effective in this regard than dwelling on what we are AGAINST.

I believe that simply boycotting things just because they may have a connection to something we don’t agree with is shortsighted at best, and counterproductive at worst. It’s just not an effective way to communicate with our culture. Below are a few areas which usually get glossed over or ignored when boycotts are encouraged.

Consistency

Shortly after graduating Bible College, one of my friends was looking for a job. One day in passing conversation I asked him how the search was going. He told me it had been a difficult. Trying to be helpful, I asked him if there were any grocery or convenience stores in his local area. He answered by stating that there were, but that all of them sold alcohol. He further explained that since he did not believe in drinking, he could not in good conscience work for a store that sold alcoholic beverages, even if he was not the one selling them. This certainly did limit his options.

Now, I’m not saying that my friend was not entitled to his beliefs. In this case his decision was only affecting him and his chances of obtaining gainful employment. But it illustrates an important point that is relevant to the present debate about bathroom usage: If you choose to boycott, are you sure you can you be consistent?

If you say you are not going to do business with a particular company because it is associated with things that are opposed to your belief system, that is your choice. But if you are using that reasoning, you need to be ready to cut a staggering amount of things from your life. If you are not willing to do that, you are undermining the integrity of your own stand.

Target is one of an innumerable amount of “non-christian” companies. It is a business and provides goods and services like any other. All of us do business with a plethora of companies in the course of a normal week. We buy groceries, we consume media, we purchase clothing, we deposit money into checking accounts. All of the merchants we use are part of larger corporations. These corporations each have vision statements and strategies. They are not all managed in the same way and do not all have the same values. And they are all made of people with diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Unless you are doing the research to track down every social program, policy, and procedure of every single business you interact with you cannot honestly say that you have no connections to something that may go against your beliefs. If we all did that, our everyday habits would be dramatically different. Yet Walmart, McDonald’s, and Netflix were all still doing pretty well the last time I checked (I have no beef with any of these merchants, I’m just using them as examples of large scale businesses).

In my view, it is not necessary to agree with every single thing a company supports in order to do business with them. For example, I am Star Wars fan. Star Wars is now owned by Disney. I know that Disney is not a christian company and that they are probably involved in causes that I disagree with. Does that mean that when I sit in the movie theater I am condoning every single thing that Disney does, has done, or will do? No. It simply means I enjoy a good light saber battle every now and then!

To choose to deprive a merchant of your business is a personal decision. But to tell others that they should follow your conscience and boycott a store is ridiculous. Chances are that your time and money are also being spent in places that are not totally in alignment with your faith. That’s just the reality of living in the world.

Hearts and Minds

Since when does punishing someone for not agreeing with you succeed in changing that person’s viewpoint? I’m a little fuzzy on the statistics for this one, but I’m pretty sure the correct figure is close to or less than never. Yet that is exactly what a boycott is all about. A corporation takes part in something we don’t like and we say, “we will punish you by not giving you our business. If you want us back, you better change your ways.”

This strategy is not going to change a single mind. In fact, it will usually do just the opposite. When battle lines are drawn, you don’t see someone from the opposing army walking over to your side and saying, “My bad. I realize that you guys are right. Can I fight with you now?” Declaring war further alienates the other party. It does not cultivate compromise or discussion.

For the Christian, it also forfeits many opportunities to love people. I can tell you from experience that working in retail is not easy. When you are dealing with disgruntled people all day, even a smile or a kind word can mean the world. But rather than look for opportunities to encourage employees and fellow shoppers, those who participate in a boycott are giving up the chance to interact with anyone in the store. Also, they are simultaneously adding to the negativity that is already so prevalent in the industry.

Nobody will ever be bullied into the arms of Jesus. To try and intimidate a person or a company into being “more christian” is to miss the whole point of Christianity.

People

Picking up from my last point, the individuals who work are Target are just like you and me. They have families to support, medical bills to pay, and groceries to buy. It’s easy to spew vitriol at a corporation because we view it as a huge, impersonal entity. But we must not forget that every company is made up of real people.

The irony could not be greater. To boycott a company is to root for its financial demise, which would ultimately mean the unemployment of its workers. So for the sake of upholding Christian values we are going to actively get in the way of someone else earning a decent living? All the self righteousness and justification in the world doesn’t allow the math on that one to make sense.

Isolationism

If we spent our time avoiding the people and things we don’t agree with, we would never come out of hiding! Since it’s an election year let’s apply this to politics. Imagine that you make a vow not to interact with anyone of a different political party. Actually let’s narrow it even further. Unless you are in 100% agreement with a person on every social and policy issue, you decide that you will not acknowledge their presence. Feeling lonely yet? Even my wife doesn’t meet this standard, and I’m kind of fond of her.

While it may sound ridiculous to shun people simply because they hold different opinions, organized religion has pretty much made a hobby out of it. I have seen churches split over simple stylistic issues. I was once invited to preach at a church, but then told I was only welcome if I used the King James version of the Bible. I’ve had conversations with other believers who have told me that certain types of people cannot come to Jesus until they change.

If we operate in this way we will isolate ourselves in an attempt to stay holy. Believing that contact with the world will degrade us, we will become more and more inward focused. This thinking is fatally flawed.

For one thing, the Bible is very clear that the problem is not outside corruption, but our own hearts. Even if you lock yourself away from all that you consider immoral, your human nature is still with you. You still have everything that you need to become a selfish, prideful sinner. There is no escaping your own heart.

A baby is protected from birth, and no parent in their right mind subjects their child to influences they believe to be detrimental. Yet toddlers naturally rebel and become selfish with no prodding from mom or dad. The outside world is not the problem.

Also, at the risk of sounding too obvious, the world is where people live! As I said at the beginning of this post, the whole point of Christianity is to share the love of Jesus with others. The only way to do this is to meet people where they are at and genuinely love them. To do that you actually have to go to them! That is not possible if you are actively avoiding people you deem unworthy or too sinful.


These are just a few of the reasons that I believe boycotting Target is counterproductive. The world is already full of hate, anger, and negativity. We don’t need to add to that noise. What we need to do is reach out instead of draw back, listen instead of judge, and engage instead of polarize.

Think of the gospel! If ever someone had a valid reason for a boycott it was God! After humanity turned it’s back on him, God would have been totally justified in completely snubbing us. But it was while our relationship with him was at its worst that he chose to show us love that we did not deserve.

How can we as Christians justify hiding ourselves from the world if even God himself did not do so? How can we pretend to be better than anyone when our only hope comes from undeserved love and forgiveness? Boycotting life is not what we are called to. Living it with a burden to serve and love others is!

Looking at Mental Illness in a New Light

“She’s just lazy and doesn’t want to get a job.”

“He’s not really depressed. He just needs to learn to suck it up and deal with real life.”

“There’s no way he has a condition that keeps him from concentrating. I’ve seen him play video games for hours and listened to him quote passages from his favorite books. He’s just using that as an excuse.”

Unfortunately these types of statements are all too common and, sadly, have taken up space in my own head. When confronted with people who’s minds work differently than mine I have not always reacted in an understanding way. While I can’t speak for others, in doing some personal soul searching I think I’ve narrowed down some of the root causes of my own judgmental attitudes toward people who struggle with mental issues.

First off, I’m pretty self absorbed. I tend to interact with the world solely from my point of view. In other words, I don’t usually consider what those around me are struggling with or how things affect them. While this may seem obvious and natural, I believe that going through life this way encourages a lack of empathy. Without empathy I can’t truly care about other people because I’m not able to identify with them.

Secondly, there have been times that I have allowed my faith to be an excuse for looking down on others. There is a great story in the New Testament in which Jesus heals a man who was born blind. Before he performs the miracle, his disciples (followers) see the man begging on the street and basically ask Jesus, “What sin did this guy’s parents commit so that God would make their son blind?” They were convinced that he deserved his lot in life.

I regret to say that I have had the same attitude. I distinctly remember watching a clip from a talk show with one of my friends from Bible College. The theme was eating disorders, and my friend and I did nothing but doubt what the people being interviewed were saying. They were claiming that something was wrong in their brain that was causing them to practice such unhealthy eating habits. We were sitting there talking about how these people just needed Jesus to fix them and that possibly they were oppressed or possessed by demons. It’s embarrassing to think back on that because I was so dismissive and judgmental.

So I’d like to begin this post by offering an apology. I have been guilty of judging people with struggles that differ from mine. I’ve written people off before fully understanding what they are going through. I still do it, but it’s something I am attempting to correct. I’m writing this as someone who wants to change, but who also admits that this desire does not excuse his own past behavior.

You may wonder what has prompted this new found soul searching on the topic of mental illness. The answer is simply, yet ridiculously self absorbed and probably disappointing. My life has now been affected by it. That may sound awful, but it’s as honest as I can be. I can talk a good game about caring for others and  putting their needs first, but the reality is that I am usually focused on me. I worry about what I want, what I need, and what is convenient for me. I usually require a swift kick in the ego to reorient my thinking and get my eyes off myself.

This time, the swift kick I received was a diagnosis.

Recently, as a result of some counseling I had received and advise from close friends, I decided to meet with a psychiatrist. The purpose of the meeting was to evaluate the problems I have concerning concentration and focus.

As far back as I can remember I have struggled with racing thoughts and being easily distracted. In high school and college it was difficult for me to study because I could not hold my train of thought beyond a few minutes. My notebooks are full of doodles produced during lectures in which I was trying to pay attention yet simultaneously appease my restless mind. I have always had issues falling asleep at night because my brain has no “off” switch. I’m laying in bed planning multiple solutions to multiple problems when I should be drifting off.

After years of figuring that this was just the way my brain worked, I had come up with my own coping mechanisms. I had become functional and as self-sufficient as possible. Other than a few friends, I don’t think anyone considered that I was struggling at all. Getting married and starting a family, however, had begun to bring some of my issues to the forefront.

As many of you know, when you have a family your life ceases to be about just you. You can’t continue to operate the same way you did when you were single. Gone are the days of doing whatever you want to do, whenever you want to do it. This is not a negative, it is simply the nature of having people in your life that depend on you. They need you to be there for them in ways that require sacrifice and self denial.

With two young children and another on the way, I decided it was finally time to address the root of my mental issues. I desire to raise my kids to be well adjusted, mature, caring adults and in order to do this I believe that I have to start by dealing with my own baggage. My coping mechanisms were already beginning to wear thin in my relationship with my wife (bad communication, lack of really listening to what she was saying, etc.) so I knew if left unchecked they would also fail me in my role as a parent.

So I went to the doctor, which was not the easiest thing in the world for me. As a man in general and a former leader in my church it was extremely humbling to let someone else question me and determine what might be “wrong with me.” It was also simply an odd experience to be evaluated in such a way, as I had never sought this kind of help before.

In any case, it didn’t take too long for the conclusion to be reached that I probably suffer from a case of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Since I am very familiar with my own internal struggles I was not shocked. I was however a bit uncomfortable with the diagnosis. A certain stigma can be attached to ADD and as I said at the outset of this post, my own responses to others in the same situations have not always been appropriate.

In spite of my initial hesitance, I accepted the diagnosis and began a test of the medication that my doctor recommended. This was another first for me. I have never in my life been on any regular medications. I was used to automatically checking no on applications and other paperwork that require one to answer questions about prescription drugs. It took a little while for me to get over this mental block and realize that the fact that I now take a pill every day doesn’t change who I am. It’s actually a testament to my determination to improve the quality of my life, and I’m okay with that!

One of the best things about this experience is that it is actually making a difference in my life! I had my initial doubts, but I have now seen some concrete improvements in my thought processes. For example, a couple of weeks ago I actually took notes in church! The page is still covered in doodles, but I was able to follow the track of most of the message and organize it in my mind enough to write it down in a semi-understandable format. I’ve also noticed a boost in focus at work, which is an environment that I naturally struggle to concentrate in. It’s been easier to organize my thoughts and I feel more of a motivation to accomplish one task, rather than always being in the middle of several unfinished activities.

The whole process has been quite a wake up call for me. Not only has my personal outlook on mental illness changed, but I have also become painfully aware of the stigma and judgment that can go along with it. One person that I shared my story with told me that they did not believe in ADD and that it was all in my head. Others have humored me, while their facial expressions betrayed obvious doubt about the validity of my situation. I realize that I have only experienced such foolishness to a small degree, but it has given me a greater appreciation for those who struggle with issues more severe than my own.

Something that is unique to mental illness is the fact that it’s effects on a person are not necessarily seen or appreciated by those around them. If someone sustains a bodily injury or begins to show symptoms of a physical sickness, we are quick to respond and encourage medical care. When the ailment is in the mind however,  it can go unnoticed by others and may even be thought of as imagined. In extreme cases, those who interact with the person who is suffering may start to believe that that individual is simply making excuses for their lack of coping skills. Nothing could be further from the truth!

The brain is a physical part of the body, and as such it needs care when things are not working correctly. In the same way that a broken arm may need a splint, an injured or malfunctioning brain may also be in need of treatment. Thinking about it in this light, along with my own recent experience, has changed my outlook completely.

Now more that ever, I am thankful that we are at a point in history in which metal disorders are being taken more seriously. It’s crazy to think about how people must have been treated in previous centuries for things that they had no control over. Watch any documentary about old insane asylums or “facilities” and you will know what I mean. We truly live in a time of medical breakthroughs in which some of the root causes of mental illness are being successfully addressed.

In conclusion I would just say this. If you have never experienced metal illness personally, don’t assume that you know what others are going through. Don’t be like me. Don’t wait until you are suffering before you have compassion on those who are suffering right now. Try to remember that you never know what that coworker, friend, or family member is going through internally. Even if you have a similar issue, everyone responds differently.

We are all in this together. Let’s encourage one another to get the help that we need and respect each other enough to have true empathy. Let’s stop judging each other and start seeking to understand. I waited too long to learn this lesson. Here’s hoping you catch on sooner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Mean When I Say “Don’t Judge”

There have been a lot of opinions on social media lately. Or in other words, situation normal. It does seem, however, that the amount of controversial issues hit a critical mass sometime in the last few months. I probably don’t even need to mention specifics at this point, because Facebook has become a war zone. It would be kind of dumb for me to stand in the middle of a battle ground and say, “Hey guys, look at that cannon over there! Oh, and there’s a tank!” I think we are all aware of the issues.

Many of the things that are going on right now have really ruffled the feathers of many Christians. It’s like some followers of Jesus have taken recent events as personal affronts or, even worse, justification to attack those they don’t agree with. Scripture is getting thrown around as a weapon and whole groups of people are being labeled as enemies.

As I was getting frustrated by the responses I was seeing from believers, I posted an image which encapsulates my view about how Christians should relate to the world. If you didn’t see it I am sharing it here again:

stutter

While I love and agree with the sentiment in this meme, I understand that it could be seen as an oversimplification or soft peddling of the gospel. I don’t believe that it is, which is why I am writing this post. What follows is an explanation of what I mean when I say, “Don’t Judge”.

1. Love Comes First

Jesus loved people. Period.

Yes, he acknowledged their sin, and yes he very honestly laid out the cost of following him. He famously told one young man that if he was not willing to sell everything he had, he could not be a disciple (Mark 10:17-29). He told a woman that was caught in the literal act of cheating on her husband to “go and sin no more” (John 8:1-11). He was not shy about letting people know that sin was bad for them and needed to be dealt with.

But do you know what Jesus did before dealing with the dirty laundry in people’s lives? He loved them and accepted them exactly the way they were. People did not have to change in order for him to have compassion on them. The two stories I referenced above show this truth wonderfully.

Before he responded to the rich young man’s inquiry about what it would take to follow him, the Bible says that “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (Mark 10:21). To the woman caught in adultery, embarrassed and in shame, his first words were, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you.”

The Bible is full of examples of how Jesus reached out to and built relationships with those around him. It didn’t matter what they were doing or how they were living their lives. Jesus went to them and loved them unconditionally first. He loved them because they were people whom God had created.

I’m convinced that if we truly want to follow in Jesus’ footsteps we need to love and accept people for who they are. Which means they may be living lives we don’t like or have beliefs we don’t agree with. We should not get to know people with an ulterior motive of bringing them to church, cleaning them up, and getting them to agree with us. We should love them simply because they are people. People whom God loves dearly.

2. God Changes Hearts

I do not have the power to change a person’s behavior. You do not have the power to change a person’s behavior. God is the only one who can change a heart.

If we run around trying to police what everyone does, we will be frustrated, upset, and exhausted 100% of the time. It is simply not our job to rid the world of sin or make people subscribe to a moral code. If a person comes to Jesus, their life does change. But it’s not a result of somebody telling them they are wrong and a heathen sinner. It’s Jesus transforming them.

Repeat after me: You are not Jesus. I am not Jesus. We are not Jesus.

3. Beliefs Differ

It is extremely important for Christians to remember that not everyone shares our belief system. We can’t go around imposing our beliefs on everybody.

Think about it. If you are a Christian, how would you react if a Muslim tried to force you to subscribe to their beliefs? Imagine that they knocked on your door and told you that you have to pray five times a day facing Mecca. Then they told you that if you do not do so, you are an unholy infidel that will rot in hell. Would that convince you to convert? I rather doubt it. You would probably tell that person that you have beliefs of your own and that you do not appreciate their accusations.

We can’t judge people who hold other beliefs accountable to our beliefs. It doesn’t make sense. Not everyone believes the gospel or that the Bible is the Word of God. So to tell those people that their behavior is un-biblical is a bit of a meaningless statement. To judge someone by something they do not accept or acknowledge is a sure fire way to keep them from accepting and acknowledging it.

Religious freedom is an idea that we like to use to defend our Christian faith. But shouldn’t we also be willing to accept the fact that religious freedom means that there is room in this country for all beliefs, or even the lack of belief? It does not give us the right to force what we believe down other’s throats or legislate morality.

4. Accountability is Good

Scripture is very clear that once you become a Christian, you place yourself under the authority of Jesus and his church. So when I say “don’t judge”, I’m not talking about Biblical accountability.

I have several guys in my life that I meet with regularly for this purpose. We ask each other tough questions about how we are doing in our family lives, thought lives, and other areas. There have been many times when I have needed to be corrected, sometimes pretty severely! But it was done in love and humility with my restoration in mind. This is in obedience to verses such as Hebrews 10:24 – And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. There are also other passages that talk about the need for Christian brothers and sisters to check in with one another and even give correction when necessary.

The key here is to discern the difference between biblical accountability and self-righteous judging. If someone is not a believer in Jesus, it is not my place to judge them and tell them they don’t measure up. It is my place to love them and introduce them to Jesus. And even if I am speaking to a fellow believer, I always have to remember that I too am a messed up, broken sinner who has my own struggles. I should never be found in a place of pride, thinking that I am better than anyone.

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With these thoughts as the context, I repeat my conviction that in this world we need to be found loving people first.

As we go through our daily lives and relate to those around us, we need to love them unconditionally and accept them simply because they are people that God created and treasures.

We don’t need to judge, we don’t need to fight, we need to show compassion. People need Jesus but it’s hard to get to him if we are standing in the way.

All Too Common “Christian” Practices and Why They Are Unhelpful – Part 4: Glorifying Pain

God is not morbid, but if you listen to some Christians you would think He’s a monster.

When “Man of Steel” came out in 2013, some critics referred to it as disaster porn. There was so much over the top destruction that it began to overshadow the main plot. It’s not that there was no room in the story for violence and explosions, it’s just that the sheer volume of them bordered on the silly.

Some segments of Christianity have a similar problem with the ideas of persecution and suffering. These topics can become so over-emphasized that Martyrs for the faith take on an almost superhuman persona and anyone who is not experiencing persecution becomes a lesser class of Christian. Persecution porn can overshadow everything else and leave Christians in a morose and morbid mood.

For example, the classic persecution sermon. If you’ve spent much time in church I’m sure you have heard some version of this. It always includes similar elements.

You’ve got the compare and contrast portion of the message: This is when the speaker compares “the North American Church” (a phrase which drives me crazy) with the church in other countries. China gets brought up a lot. Why is the church growing so much in China while here in America we are apathetic and dying? Because it’s illegal to hold Bible studies there and it’s possible to be arrested for it, therefore the only people converting to Christianity are those who are serious about Jesus. We don’t know what that’s like here in the united states. It’s too easy to be a Christian here. There is no threat to our life or freedom, so we don’t take it seriously.

The second part of the message is the doom and gloom part. Persecution is coming. There will be a day when our culture not only hates us but will start to actively seek us out and harm us. We will be arrested for worshiping Jesus and maybe even killed. Not only should we be aware that this is coming, but we should look forward to it because it will refine us and make us more faithful! If we are not being persecuted, we should ask ourselves why? I must not be living a good enough Christian life because those around me don’t hate me!

With this type of thinking, persecution is held up as an ideal to attain, and every Christian should want to have the opportunity to be tortured or killed for Christ.

Not only is persecution a morbid fascination in many Christian circles, but so is suffering in general. I have overheard and unfortunately taken part in too many conversations that have tried to callously make sense out of a grieving or suffering person’s pain. For some reason, Christians often seem to think that there has to be a redeeming reason for all suffering. It all fits into the “perfect plan” that God has for the whole world and individual people. The trials that we face in life are things that will ultimately bring us closer to God and one day we will understand their purpose. So we should really welcome pain in our lives, because it brings about God’s will. If God brings you too it he will lead you through it, just let go and let God, He won’t give you more than you can handle. (please read this last sentence with emphatic sarcasm)

I have a lot of problems with this type of thinking, but for the sake of brevity I will only mention what I see as the most damaging effects it produces.

1. It ignores Biblical truth: When it comes to human pain, the Bible is pretty up front about that fact that the world is a broken place in which it is easy to get hurt. Yes, the introduction of death and pain was originally man’s fault because of disobedience, but the way the world is now is not the way God wants it to be! God is not up in heaven deciding who to kill or make sick in order to fulfill his plan. There is nothing noble about suffering for suffering’s sake.

2. If brought to it’s logical conclusion, the belief that all suffering is a part of God’s plan leads to some pretty dark thinking: Why would you ever want to help another person? Why donate money or food to the world’s poor? Their suffering must have a purpose right? What is the purpose of helping someone in need if I am messing up God’s purpose by doing so? – This is pretty twisted. I believe that a big part of being a Christian means loving those around you and easing what suffering you can in the world.

3. We shouldn’t pursue persecution: Yes, the Bible does say that those who follow Jesus will be at odds with the world. But this does not mean that we should go looking for trouble! Those who are not followers of Jesus may take issue with our beliefs or practices and that’s okay. What is not okay is acting like a jerk for the sake of Jesus and then claiming to endure persecution.

I once heard a sermon in which the speaker asked, “Do the people at your job know you are a Christian, and if they did, would you still have your job?” As if my fellow employees and my supervisors would fire me on the spot if they knew I followed Jesus. My answers to this speaker’s questions are yes and yes! My Christian faith should actually enhance my reputation at work. The Bible teaches me to do my best at everything and to obey my boss. These are quite compatible with the workplace. What might get me in trouble would be attempting to proselytize at work, or always pointing out everything I don’t agree with. If I did those things, I suppose I could cry about being persecuted, but really, I would deserve what I got.

I do not agree with the idea that if those around you know you are a Christian they will hate and mock you automatically. Quite to the contrary, I believe that if you are modeling Jesus to those around you, you will get an overwhelmingly positive response because of the genuine love and care you are showing.

Now, I am not denying that real persecution exists or that God can use suffering to further his purpose.

There are many places in the world where just being a Christian is enough to get you killed. That’s real persecution and it’s something Jesus told us would happen. He said the world would hate us because it hated him. But if you really pay attention to scripture, the people who persecuted Jesus were the ones who saw him as a threat.

The people Jesus loved on did not try to kill him. He did not walk around judging people and telling everybody how wrong their views were and then act surprised when he got a bad response. Unfortunately many Christians have a tendency to try and force their political views and opinions on others and then talk about being persecuted when they receive kick back. There is nothing noble about that.

As far as suffering goes, yes, God can absolutely use the things we go through in life to teach us and guide us. But sometimes bad stuff just happens. The world is not the way it should be and sometimes it just hurts. Death comes too soon, sickness takes hold of people, and relationships crumble. As believers in Jesus, we can take solace in the fact that this life is not all there is, but we are in it now, and sometimes it just plain sucks. So many Christians are not willing to face the fact that sometimes bad things happen without logical reason or design.

So let’s stop wearing persecution as a badge of honor and let’s stop explaining away pain. Just living in this world, loving people, and doing what we can to ease the suffering of others should satisfy us.

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All Too Common “Christian” Practices and Why They Are Unhelpful – Part 3: Theological Snobbery

I’m right. You’re Wrong. That settles it.

Those simple statements represent too much of the teaching I have experienced in the Christian world. Unfortunately, they also remind me that I once used a similar teaching and preaching strategy. I learned this theological snobbery as I grew up in church and then later went on to Bible school. I’ve signed doctrinal statements that detailed overly specific beliefs to which I needed to subscribe to become an accepted part of the group. I’ve been on both the receiving and giving end of “proof texts” to reinforce opinions on a particular topic. I’ve argued with fellow believers about the finer points of obscure theological concepts.

While this strategy is very common among Christians, I believe it misses the mark in two important areas.

1. Sharing the Gospel

As a Christian, I believe that everyone needs Jesus. I also believe that it is my responsibility to share his love with those around me and introduce him to people who do not know him. This is one of the bedrock convictions of Christianity. The Bible teaches that the best way to accomplish this is to genuinely love and accept people for who they are. As people see the love of Jesus in the way I treat them, they are more likely to react favorably to the gospel message and realize the love God has for them.

Unfortunately, for reasons that I do not understand, many Christians choose to try and bully people to Jesus. They seem to think that if they can prove somebody wrong, they will win them to Christ. This is a foolish and ultimately unproductive practice.

Take for example the handing out of religious literature, known sometimes as tracts. If you are not familiar with these, they are basically mini-pamphlets designed to explain the Christian faith and convince someone that they need Jesus. I have several problems with these.

First of all, if you are a Christian, think about how you would react if a total stranger of a different faith persuasion walked up to you, handed you a pamphlet, and tried to convince you to convert. Would you have a favorable response to this? How about if you simply found the pamphlet shoved underneath the windshield wipers of you vehicle after a long day of work? Would you seriously consider anything that pamphlet had to say or would you just be annoyed? So why do we ever think this is a good idea to do to others? Call me crazy, but I find forcing unsolicited conversation and information onto total strangers to be a bit disrespectful and rude.

My second issue with tracts is their content. Most of them are a rushed explanation of the gospel at best, and downright offensive at worst. Back in my Bible School days, I remember going out with a friend to pass some of these out one day. I was young and stupid, and under the impression that to be a good follower of Jesus I had to start awkward conversations with strangers. We spent the whole afternoon doing this, and finally at the end of the day I thought it might be a good idea to actually read what I had been indiscriminately passing out. This is not an exact quote, but the first paragraph of the tract that I had been giving to people started something like this, “Dear friend, please do not be offended that I am giving you this literature, but if you do not accept Jesus as your personal savior you will go to a place where you will burn forever and ever.” I was mortified and wanted to go grab all the tracts back before anyone could read them!

There are a myriad of other ways that Christians like to bully people and inform them that they are wrong. Offensive Facebook statuses, yelling at people because they don’t say the right version of a holiday greeting, and complaining that secular action movies (here’s looking at you “Noah” and “God’s and Kings”) are not “biblical” are a few other glaring examples.

I do not understand why some Christians cannot see that these are not good strategies for winning people to Jesus. If someone made a point of telling you how wrong you are and how right they are, if they used every opportunity to start a fight with you, would you be interested in hanging out with that person? Beyond that, would you want to meet that person’s leader and more of his followers? I’m guessing not.

2. Growing in Faith

Another area in which theological snobbery is detrimental to Christianity is within the Christian church itself. Fighting about the finer points of theology has become something of a favorite pass time within Christian circles. Either that, or outright ignoring and demonizing anyone who dares to disagree with the beliefs of the group.

One disturbing example of this is a category of tracts that you are only likely to see if you live within the Christian subculture. These are pamphlets that try to convince you that a certain point of view within Christian belief is correct. For a while, I was certain that I had a stalker in the Farmington area because this individual would continually accost me with these things. His particular hobby horse was versions of the Bible. He believed that the version he used was the only one that was truly ordained by God. Any other version was deemed a perversion. He kept finding me in public places and trying to engage me in a conversation about this issue, and he would always try to give me literature on the topic. I tried to tell him that I was a fellow believer in Jesus and find some common ground, but he was only interested in attempting to force his opinion on me. Needless to say we are not close.

The Bible School I attended was also a fertile environment for such thinking. A very specific system of theology was taught, and anyone who veered away from it was either blackballed or labeled a heretic. This is not an exaggeration. Many of the textbooks I read were simply critiques of other books, with the author spending the bulk of the time dismissing and disproving of a rival. Professors would openly condemn certain beliefs and teachers that they did not agree with. It was like there could be no grey area, everything had to have a clear and definite answer. Unfortunately for those who think like this, there are many areas in scripture that are very open to interpretation.

The end times are one of these grey areas. The Bible gives us very little in the way of details when it comes to the order of events in the future. Jesus himself told his disciples that no one knows the timing of his return except for God himself. Yet this is one of those areas in which theologians insist upon laying out an ordered and very specific timeline of what will happen. I actually had an assignment once in which I was instructed to come up with a timeline for specific events during the end times. I got great grades on most of my papers and projects, but this was not one of them! I was simply unwilling to pretend to be certain about something that the Bible is anything but clear about. To this day, my theology of the end times follows a simple three point outline: Jesus is coming back, I don’t know when, and I should be ready when he does!

For my thesis (or what was the equivalent of one at the school I attended) I had to come up with a personal doctrinal statement. It was basically a long paper stating what I believed about each point of the major ten divisions of systematic theology. Each point had to be supported by scripture references, which some call proof texts. I was uncomfortable with the shaky ground upon which some of these points stood, so I specifically asked one of my professors what he was looking for from the assignment. In essence, he told me that if I wanted to pass, I should make sure that my personal doctrinal statement lined up with what the school believed. He actually admitted to me that he wanted me to simply parrot back the school’s position on each issue! I have since edited that document numerous times to reflect my actual beliefs, and the result is much different than what the school would have accepted.

Now to be clear, I am not speaking about crucial, non-negotiable truths of Scripture. There are certain principles and truths that must never be compromised. The Deity of Jesus, his death and resurrection for our sin, and his sinless nature, just to name a few. I’m talking about the many minor areas of theology which are really not spelled out for us in the Bible. There are many more of these than most Christians are willing to admit.

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If we want to truly be effective as Christians, we need to learn to relax! We must be willing to admit that we don’t need a definite and unyielding answer for every issue! It’s okay to evolve in your beliefs and understanding of the Bible as time goes on, even if that means disagreeing with something you were taught from a very young age. If we truly believe that God is an infinite God, why would we ever think that we can know all there is to know about Him?

Going to war for the way you understand the Bible is not helpful in either winning people for Christ or expanding your own faith. You will alienate the people you are trying to reach and you will stunt true creativity and growth within yourself.

Remember, people need Jesus. Not your theology.