I Actually Used “Encouraging” and “Politics” in the Same Sentence!

The most encouraging thing I’ve heard lately from the world of politics came in the wake of the tragic shooting at the Republican baseball practice on June 14. I was pleased by a number of news reports covering multiple politicians from both sides of the aisle calling to dial back the disrespectful, inflammatory rhetoric that incites this kind of behavior.

Most of us are unaware of how short and steep the slippery slope is from damaging words to damaging actions.

It’s actually a good thing that we disagree with each other on a range of issues — that disagreement leads to more thorough, healthy exploration of possible solutions. The problem begins when we make assumptions about the motives of our opponents and escalate that in our minds to assumptions about their character.  We find ourselves painting them as evil people with evil intent instead of as human beings deserving of respect even if we disagree with their views.

Wouldn’t it be great if the standard in politics was Socratic discussion of issues instead of building support by super-charging people’s emotions around the issues? But politicians need to maintain their support base, and dramatic rhetoric works for that purpose, even if it is counterproductive for the health of our nation.

High drama also makes for more exciting media stories, and that makes money for the media.

Thus the needs of the politicians are served by inflammatory rhetoric, and the needs of the media are served by inflammatory rhetoric. So what if that disrespectful speech creates a culture where it’s a small step across the line to physical assault?  Is that an acceptable price to pay to assure political and media success?

But as I’ve said before, the blame doesn’t really lie just with the politicians and the media.  They’re listening to their audiences — the rest of us — and giving us what we’re asking for. They’re doing what works because we allow it to work.

Let’s work this chain backwards: A gunman shoots people he disagrees with because he’s constantly hearing how evil these people are. He’s hearing how evil these people are because that language raises support for politicians and the media. That support comes because we rally behind the people who make the biggest media splash instead of those who demonstrate respectful and rationale exploration of problems and solutions.

We like things that stir our emotions — and that’s a good thing. But we’ve lost the self-discipline individually and as a society to restrain our thirst for emotional satisfaction when reason would better serve all involved.  Remember that the next time you assume the guy who cut you off on the freeway is of low character instead of extending the grace you would hope for when you make a bad driving decision.

Which Language Do You Speak Most?

For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.

Matthew 12;34b (NASB)

Our choice of words makes a difference. Sure, we use words to influence others, but I’m more interested at the moment in what our words reveal about us and how we may be influenced by our own words. Consider these three phrases:

I want to… This is the language of self-centeredness. It’s all about me. My desires may be good, or they may be bad. It doesn’t matter, they’re mine. And I intend to satisfy them.

I need to… This is the language of obligation. Again, the source of that obligation may be good or it may be bad. It could be rooted in a healthy sense of responsibility, or in fear, or in selfish ambition, or in legalism.

I choose to… This is the language of love…or not.  Love, at it’s core, is an act of the will – a continuous set of decisions we make.  If God had not given us a free will, it would be impossible for us to love. When our choices are motivated by the best interest of others, we demonstrate love. When motivated by our self-interest, it’s selfishness. God equipped us to choose.

I can choose to do what I want to do, and if I have been transformed to desire the things that please God, fulfilling my desires is a good thing.

I can choose to do what I need to do, and if my needs are aligned with loving God and loving others, with faith that He will take care of me (Matthew 6), then meeting my obligations is a good thing.

Perhaps saying “I choose” more than “I want” or “I need” would make me more aware of the motivation behind my choices. The synergy between heart and mouth might be a powerful tool in the transformation from selfishness to love.

I don’t want to, but I choose to.  I don’t need to, but I choose to.  I choose acts of love, acts of worship.

Why Even Rich People Should Ask for Money…

The Ministry of Asking…

When I was in my teens and twenties, I could easily have been persuaded to become a career missionary except for one thing: There’s no way I was going to ask other people for financial support. If I was being honest I probably would have said, “God, I’ll do anything you want except ask people for money.”dollar-2091736_640

As my life journey continued, I thought maybe God was prospering my career so that one day I could afford to send myself into ministry without burdening others. But even as my bank account grew, God was transforming my thinking. I began to see fundraising not as something we do so that we can do ministry, but as an important part of the ministry God intends for us to embrace.

After all, God has no shortage of resources and could easily fund every well-intended ministry without having to involve other people. But He rarely does that. Why?

Here are some of the reasons why I’ve decided that I need to ask others to financially participate in my missions activities even if I can just write checks and pay for them myself:

  1. I need to know that others believe in what I’m doing. If Godly people who know me are not supportive, I should question whether this is really something I should be doing.
  2. Asking for money is humbling. There is no more appropriate way to enter into a ministry opportunity than from a humble posture. The more money I have of my own, the more humbling it is to ask, and the more I need to be humbled — especially as I engage with those who have so much less.
  3. God wants to use me in the lives of those who support me. It may be helping them learn the joy of giving; learning to discern when to say “yes” and when to say “no”; or possibly something totally unrelated to money that God gives me the opportunity to speak into.
  4. It allows them to fulfill their calling. Not everyone is called to go; but those who aren’t may still be called to give or pray for those who do go. I don’t want to deny them the opportunity to participate in God’s work according to their ability.
  5. They get connected to other aspects of God’s work. You may be connecting them to a ministry they’ll become part of for a long time. Their eyes may be opened to the breadth of God’s love and work around the world.  That ultimately expands their view of God himself.
  6. Their support may exceed your needs. That excess provides resources to the ministry that they wouldn’t have if I wrote a check just covering my own portion. Donors to each of my disaster relief trips have provided extra money to help the survivors.

If those are good reasons to raise support, why would I just pay for it myself?  Pride.

Gaining Strength From the Little Things…

If I never learn to say “no” to my own desires…
…when I want yet another cookie…
…when I want to go to a movie I shouldn’t see even though my friends are going…
…when I want to spend some money that I should save…
…when I want to play another video game instead of taking out the trash…
…when I want to post something on social media that will dishonor someone else…
…when I want to check for new messages while I’m in the middle of a live conversation…

If I never learn to say “no” to the simple, little, daily choices in life,
how will I have the strength to say “no” when I face the bigger decisions and temptations that are sure to come?

Will I be able to say, “no” to my own desires…
…when I don’t want to have that difficult conversation that needs to be had?
…when I don’t want to help that person who has a need that I can meet?
…when I would be uncomfortable sharing my faith with someone?
…when professing my faith might cost me my freedom or my life?

Jesus said “no” to His life with His Father in Heaven so He could come to Earth as a man and die a death that He did not want to die (Mat 26:39).  He did this so that we could know the joy of living our lives for God’s glory forever instead of for our own short-term happiness.

He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.  Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?      – Luke 16:10-11 (NASB)

The Promises of God We Don’t Want

We love to claim God’s promises in scripture — at least some of them. Some we prefer not to think about.

Some promises — we might call them “consequences” — are promises that come as the result of our bad choices.

This topic comes to mind because of Friday’s Executive Order by the President stopping the refugee program for 120 days and severely crippling it thereafter.

Never mind that America is built on immigration; or that most economists say immigration is good for our economy; or that refugees have hadfence-978138_1280 little to do with domestic terrorism. It’s true that three Americans have been killed by refugee terrorists — they were from Cuba back in the 1970s, before the Refugee Act of 1980 created systematic entry procedures. Targeting refugees, which the State Department already describes as the “most highly scrutinized” and “most vigorously vetted” path to entering the US, is like fixing a dripping faucet while a broken pipe pours gallons of water into your kitchen.

But let’s assume everything in that last paragraph is wrong. If Christians are going to claim the Bible as the ultimate authority on how we are to live our lives, none of that is as important as the teachings of scripture.

What does the Bible teach about immigration and refugees in particular? A 2015 Lifeway Research survey determined that only 12% of Evangelical Christians consider scripture to be the primary influence on their view of immigration.

I can make a Biblical case for protecting our country and our families. But that isn’t a strong theme in scripture. It’s a stronger theme that God will defend those who are committed to His purposes. One of the strongest of those purposes is care for the most vulnerable (widows, orphans, homeless, and foreigners) and especially those who are victims of injustice — e.g. refugees.

In case this isn’t clear, refugees are those who have left their home country because of “a credible fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group.” You’re not a refugee because you want to find a better place to make a living, or because there was an earthquake in your home country. You are a refugee because of a credible fear of injustice.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of verses that apply to refugees:

Deut 10:19 Love them
Deut 14:28-29 Use tithes to bless them
Deut 31:11-12 Assemble with them to listen to God’s Word
Deut 16:11 Celebrate God’s blessings with them
Deut 24:19-20 Take care of their physical needs
Deut 27:19 Cursed is he who distorts the justice due them
Eze 22:29-31 God’s wrath on those who wrong them
Zech 7:10-13 God won’t listen to those who oppress them
Mal 3:5 God’s swift judgment against those who turn them aside
Isa 58 promises God’s blessing when we stop seeking our own pleasure to bring them into our own homes and care for them.

So we get to choose — individually and as a nation — which promises of God we want to experience.

God is faithful to deliver on His promises.  Like it or not.

God’s Power to Transform

sprout-1147803_640God’s power is revealed in the transformation of that which is perceived as most negative into that which is most positive – totally counterintuitive from a human perspective.

Only in God’s redemption work can the most shamed become the most honored, the most humble the most exalted, the weakest the most strong, the most depraved the most forgiven.

How Do You Carry Your Faith?

If you carry your faith like a weapon, you can expect to be attacked.
If you carry your faith like a first aid kit, you can expect others to seek your help.doctor-1015626_640