Friday, August 19, 2016

An Election Season Prayer

I could not help but think about both of the major party candidates for President this morning as I read Psalm 140 for my quiet time. Obviously they are not what David was referring to, but I do see his evil enemies as good stand-ins for our own candidates:

"Rescue me, Lord, from evildoers; protect me from the violent, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day.

They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent's; the poison of vipers is on their lips. 

Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked...

I say to the Lord, "You are my God." Hear, Lord, my cry for mercy.

Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer, you shield my head in the day of battle. Do not grant the wicked their desires, Lord; do not let their plans succeed. ...

May slanderers not be established in the land; may disaster hunt down the violent. I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy." (Psalm 140:1-4,6-7,11-12)

Only the Lord will secure justice for those who need it. May God do something miraculous this election season, so that evil plans do not succeed.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Stop Telling Me I'm Wasting My Vote

Not long back, I told everyone that I would be voting third party or write-in during this election. I find the parties equally inept and morally-repugnant, and also despise both candidates they've put forth.

Since that time, I have heard a steady refrain from everyone:  that's just wasting your vote.

So let me officially give you four reasons to stop telling me that I'm wasting my vote:

1. I respect your vote -- why can't you do the same?

If you support Secretary Clinton as your candidate, I disagree with you. If you support Mr. Trump as your candidate, I disagree with you. I do not think either of them would be good Presidents; I think in both cases, the best case scenario is "Ineffective" and the worst case is "Disaster."

So I disagree with you, probably pretty strongly, if you support one of those candidates.

But that doesn't mean I will disrespect you by trying to convince you that you are "wasting" your vote.

How insulting is it, that you can't offer me the same respect?

I do not think your voice is wasted--even if I disagree with it--because I actually do believe in this whole "democracy" thing. I actually believe that each of us is supposed to make a formal official record of our desire for the country ("vote"), and that the Electoral College should take that into consideration when choosing the President.

So stop telling me that mine is wasted: every time you say that, you make it clear that you are so invested in 'winning' that you will gladly give away Democracy in the process, and support an oligarchy instead.

The only wasted Presidential vote is if you are voting for someone you don't actually believe would do a good job in office. (So, for me, to vote for Trump or Clinton is actually a wasted vote.)

2. A vote for one person is--stay with me now--a vote FOR someone, not AGAINST someone else

A sub-version of the "waste" argument goes like this:  "a vote for Gary Johnson is really a vote for Hillary!" or, "A vote for Jill Stein is really a vote for Trump!"

Okay, let me go slow and break this down for you.

Adding +1 to one person's total does not actually add +1 into a different person's column.

That seems pretty clearly first-grade arithmetic, but it is a common statement in today's political debates.

The basic idea of Democracy is that each candidate has a bucket, and each voter has a chip or rock, and they place their rocks/chips in the bucket of the guy or gal that they like. At the end, they are added up. Placing one in bucket A does not add one to bucket B.

And even children can see that.

So why would an intelligent person say, "Voting for Johnson is actually voting for Hillary"?

Well, what they are actually saying is this:  "Johnson won't win, so if you vote for him you are taking a vote that would have gone for my candidate and spending it elsewhere."

You see? A third party vote is only wasted if I would otherwise have voted for your candidate.  You are assuming that your candidate WOULD have had my vote, if I weren't some idealist out there voting for a third party.

But that's not true.

I am voting third party or write-in precisely because I think the other two are terrible, terrible potential leaders. I will not face Jesus saying that I was willing to put my support behind either of these two candidates. (More on why, later.)

Whenever I make this point to someone, they get flustered and say something like:  "Well, I hope it makes you feel better when you wake up on the 9th and [Trump/Hillary] is President!"

I don't think it's actually that much different who wins. It doesn't matter who is in the pilot's seat when the plane crashes, you still wind up dead. And neither of these two can pull America out of her tailspin. So it really doesn't matter who's in charge. Both are terrible choices.

If we wake up on the 9th with either as President, we are worse off as a nation. Significantly worse off. The best case for either candidate is that they will be an ineffective and bumbling Carter; the worst case for Trump is that he's Mussolini and the worst case for Clinton is that she's Nixon. These are not good names to be throwing out!

No, I will not feel good with either of these winning the Presidency. I will not feel better with one over the other. I will not wake up feeling better because we elected a possibly fascist, and I will not wake up feeling better because we elected the next Nixon either.

It will make me feel better to know that I did my duty as a citizen, which is to cast my vote for someone who would run the country well.

I don't trust either of your candidates. So I am not "wasting" a vote for either of them.

3. The situation could be fixed immediately, if Independents would stop falling for this argument

When you perpetuate the "wasted vote" argument, do you realize that you are actually sharing in one of the great propaganda campaigns of political history?

In basketball, if I have a bad team (and I've coached some bad ones!), my strategy is simple:  suppress down the pace (so that small point totals can win), and remove options for the other team (so they have to play "our game").

That is precisely what the Democrats and GOP have done for more than a generation, and you have not only fallen from it, you are now helping them.

You see, the Democrats and Republicans have terrible favorability ratings. No one likes them, so no one wants to vote for them.

So, what will they do to remain in power?

Simple, two things (and they both do them).

First - suppress the vote.  That is, stop eligible voters from turning out, so that your small base of supporters have a disproportionately large say in things. The GOP targets minorities in this, making the US the most difficult place to get an ID and then forcing voter ID laws to keep them from voting.  The Democrats target busy wealthy people, and so in 44 of the 50 states, the Democrats have succeeded in scheduling special interest votes at times that aren't part of the normal federal election cycle to keep busy people away from the polls.  In both cases, the goal is the same:  lower voter turnout so you don't actually need very many votes to win. They've done it well--despite being the "cradle of Democracy", America is 29th in voter turnout, with a dismal 54% voting rate.

But suppressing the vote isn't enough.

You also need to make people feel they have no other options. Convince people that since no third party candidate has ever won, therefore no third party candidate can ever win.  Of course, that argument makes no sense. By that logic, Obama wouldn't have been elected because we'd had no black presidents, and Clinton wouldn't have just won the Democratic nomination because we'd never had a woman do it. Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it can't happen.

But that strategy is effective.  Because odds are, many of you will vote for Trump or Clinton even though you hate them, because you think anything else has no chance of success.

But is that truth, or just the lie of the parties who need you to believe it?

As the NY Times pointed out a few days ago:  a very, very, very small percentage of people have actually supported Trump and Clinton in the voting booth thus far. There are 221 million registered voters in the U.S. The parties have successfully suppressed 88 million of their voices--they won't bother to vote. Let's assume that this won't change; that leaves us with 133 million likely voters...of whom about 13 million have cast votes for Trump during primaries and 17 million have cast votes for Clinton during the primaries. Let's assume those are all firm commitments.

So 103 million votes are still up in the air. That is 77% of the voting population!

77% of the voting population does not overtly support Clinton or Trump.

If everyone voted their conscience, all we would need is about 14% of the remaining voters to get behind one man or woman and they would beat both candidates.

Literally:  Pokemon Go has gotten more downloads in the past month than we would need to get votes behind a third-party or write in candidate.

If we would all stop buying into the propaganda they are selling and just vote our consciences, we would change everything this election.

If you aren't one of those who voted for Trump or Clinton in the primaries...then MY vote isn't being wasted--YOUR vote is, because you are spending it not on someone you believe in, but are a puppet to the propoganda of the parties.

4. Stop blaming me because your party put forth a terrible candidate

I'm a registered independent. I don't have an affiliation with either of these parties.

So stop blaming me that your party just nominated a terrible candidate. Putting forth a terrible candidate and then complaining that I 'waste' my vote by not supporting them is ridiculous and illogical.

You won't bully me into supporting a bad candidate by making the other one a boogeyman.

And by the way--no one should do that. When Ford was selling exploding Pintos, people stopped buying them...and so the company stopped making exploding cars. It's the same way in politics: if you keep giving a party your vote no matter who they put out as candidates, then why would they ever need to put out a good one?

This election has made one thing clear to me:  if the GOP were to nominate Hitler and the Democrats were to nominate Mussolini, Americans would just gobble them up, and be complaining to ME for refusing to cast my vote behind one. They would spend their hours arguing which fascist was worse, when it is obvious that both would be evil.

The truth is, these are terrible candidates. The president's job is essentially the "CEO" or Chief Executive for the country. His or her role is to provide leadership that unites Americans; to command our armed forces; and to operate the largest bureaucracy in the world (the Executive Branch of the government employs nearly 2.1 million employees, so running it is the equivalent of running every Wal-Mart in America plus every Target in America plus every Kroger in America).

So those are the three key things:  lead our military; unite the country; oversee the largest employer in the world efficiently and effectively.

And our two parties have given us terrible, terrible choices.

I do not believe Secretary Clinton can do this job.

She is terribly hawkish, being a part of both George W's wars and Obama's fumbling in the Middle East--and, before that, the decisions of her husband which helped put the Taliban in power in 1996 and led to a lot of this. Sec. Clinton has proved to be one of the most active warmongers in the history of our nation.

She is also massively divisive; has been ever sense her time in Arkansas as First Lady. She uses personal email servers to hide from FOIA requests, she cares far too much what others think of her--causing her to switch radically from one "deeply held" position to another, following wherever the political wind blows. The only people united behind her are Wall Street bankers (Bernie wasn't wrong here): 99.96% of Wall Street money has gone to Clinton over Trump.

I will not cast a vote saying that this woman should be in this job.

Nor will I do so for Mr. Trump.

Trump should not be in charge of our military. For one thing, he has publicly advocated war crimes (torturing and killing family members of terrorists), and has publicly hated on POWs and war heroes. Furthermore--and it's stunning this hasn't gotten play publicly--he dodged the Vietnam draft five times, and said his time as a prep school student gave him better military training and understanding than actual soldiers. The man is not going to make wise decisions in charge of the world's most powerful military.

The only thing more stunning than hawkish Republicans getting behind a draft-dodger and military-hater is that Christians are willing to support him. If you'd told me that Christians would get behind a guy who owns a strip club for goodness' sake, not to mention multiple casinos, I'd have said "No chance." If you told me on top of that he would be a multi-time adulterer, three-times married, longtime pro-choice candidate who only switches literally during the election to get votes, and who says he doesn't confess sins to God because he doesn't make them...I'd have said you were crazy. Not unless the guy made a deal with the devil could he convince Christians to vote for him. But even though my brethren might be falling for it, I won't. He is not a good man. He's a morally very bad man. He should not be in charge.

And perhaps most relevantly:  he will lead poorly. Critical to success as a leader is being the "steady hand at the wheel"--and he is anything but steady. He will careen the country all over the place. He will crash it into the ground--just as he has four of his companies. If he can't lead small companies with a few hundred employees, how can he run the largest organization in the entire world (more employees than Wal-Mart plus Target plus Kroger)?

So no, I won't vote for Trump.

I won't vote for either of these two. It is not my responsibility to choose one over the other. It is my civic duty to cast my voice for someone who will lead the country well.

Right now, that is looking most like a write-in for Marco Rubio or Condoleeza Rice.

I refuse to put my vote behind either Nixon or Mussolini. And you shouldn't, either.

P.S. -- Stop with the Supreme Court argument, too.

When you go through this with people, they usually don't have much to argue with. So they usually do this:  "But what about the Supreme Court!!!!"

This is a boogeyman used in every election, and I for one have seen through it.

A couple of things:

(1)  The President can only nominate justices. He/she can't appoint them. If you care about the Supreme Court, choose your Senators. As we saw with Bork and Myers, the Senate can simply refuse to vote, or vote down, a candidate that they don't like. They can keep sending the President back to the well a thousand times until he comes up with one they like. The power is 100% in the Senate in this case, so don't worry about Supreme Court with the President--he's largely irrelevant in this case. The Senate is what matters, so if this is important to you, research your Senate votes.

(2) There is no way to tell a "liberal" from "conservative" judge. Most judges so rarely interact with the specific legislation they will see as a SCOTUS member, that they are unknown.  People thought Scalia was a moderate and was elected 99-0. People though Ginsberg was moderate and she was elected with similar overwhelming margins--every conservative there liked her, too, at the time. People thought Kennedy would be liberal but he's actually a swing voter; O'Conner was supposed to be conservative but turned out moderate.

So not only does the President have limited power over putting justices in place, but he can't predict what they would do anyway.

This should not affect your Presidential vote at all. The President will have almost no influence on the SCOTUS, but it is used by parties to try and force you to abandon your convictions and support them instead.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

How I'm Voting

I've pointed out before that no, your vote actually doesn't count; and I've also discussed why that upsets you so much for me to say so.

But, Russell Moore actually makes a powerful argument in a recent article published on Christianity Today, one which I highly recommend that you read (click here, then come back).  Moore's conclusion is that as Christians we have a duty to participate in the process, but also we cannot in good conscience support candidates who have "first-level" major morality stances which oppose Jesus' teachings.

As a result, he concludes that one should in those cases vote for write-in or third-party candidates. The primary argument people seem to have is that this makes your vote meaningless, but as I shared in my first post, mathematically it already is meaningless; you are fooling yourself if you think otherwise. So in that regard, Moore is right on track and I fully agree with his conclusions.

But as I've thought about it more and more, I think that his conclusions don't go far enough.

He spoke of the issues on a candidate-by-candidate basis: that is, what happens when I am faced with a choice between Candidate A and Candidate B, both of whom have major moral issues?

I think the issue is actually much bigger:  what happens when we are faced with Party A and Party B, both of whom have major moral issues?

Because make no mistake:  the person you vote for--whether they be Congress or for the Presidency--is simply one part of a large machine. Being elected President does not give you carte blanche to do what you want, and every President has always found himself needing the backing of his party plus the "swingable" members of the other party in order to get legislation passed. Likewise, Congressmen find themselves requiring significant financial and connection backing in order to win an election or do anything meaningful in Congress.

The fact is, we are playing a rigged system today--no matter what candidate for which you vote, the reality is that you are choosing Party A vs. Party B.

And that's fine...when one Party is more or less right. But on major moral issues, neither is right.

Major Moral Issues

Now, Christianity does not have (and never has had) a list of key political positions. I wrote extensively about a true pro-life position in the past (read here for entire series), as well as having written extensively about the Adamic and Noahic Covenants which apply to us as Gentiles (see here and here and here).

Based on these links, I will argue that the following are "non-negotiable" or "first level" Biblical worldviews of politics--the things that we as Christians cannot compromise on in the name of pragmatism, when casting our votes:

  • Christians should only support candidates who wish to conserve and preserve nature and care for and restore Creation
  • Christians should only support candidates who oppose murder in all its forms, including (but not limited to):  traditional murder; abortion; active euthanasia; most warfare; any war strategies which have high civilian casualties; and the death penalty for non-murder cases.
  • Christians should only support candidates who encourage religious liberty (for the basis of Christianity is freely choosing to follow Christ, with no compulsion)
  • Christians should only support candidates who are passionate about social justice, ensuring that all God's creatures are treated fairly. This is a consistent Scriptural theme, including no cruel/unusual punishments; providing aid for the needy; abolishing slavery; opposing inequality against races or classes.

On these issues, I don't feel that a Christian can disagree with a person and still vote for them.

Our Two-Party Problem

Here is where we get into issues.

Both of the major American parties are, to be honest, opposite sides of the same coin. Both care for little other than the protection of their own power, and increase the government to do so. Spend merely a few minutes googling, and you will see that neither party has cared one whit about limiting size of the government or efficiency, etc. Both care only about getting and retaining power--which is why immediately after election, a re-election campaign begins.

Whereas other countries often have ten or more parties--and thus, the opportunity for multiple voices to be heard--our two parties actively and aggressively oppose this, for no value to the country but purely in a bald attempt to maintain their own power.

They secure this power by being willing to do whatever it takes to get the (a) financing, and (b) political support of major corporations or donors--which is why fewer than 200 families in the US account for over 50% of all election donations (see here for the shocking truth). Nor is this just a Republican problem, for the Teachers Unions are also the largest lobbying group, and if you will take two hours of your life to watch Waiting for Superman (here), you will be sickened to consider what that does to our educational system.

Now, what does this mean?

It means that neither party is primarily focused on hearing from the people, but rather upon protecting its current power and platforms. This is why those elected generally do the same things as their predecessors, regardless of what was said during the is why, for example, in 2008 we had one candidate defending Gitmo and one opposing it, and yet here we are after the opposer won two terms and Gitmo is unchanged.

If I start with Russell Moore's strong argument that we should vote, but cannot support a corrupt candidate; and combine this with the reality that voting for a candidate also means supporting their party's platform (for in all practical matters this is what is always the result), then this means we must analyze whether either party can pass the four "moral tests" for Christian candidates which I lay out above.

So...can they? Let's see.

Test 1:  Preserving and caring for nature.

Preserving and caring for nature is a requirement from Genesis 1 and part of the Adamic Covenant. It is our duty as Christians to help create a better environment, something which some politicians do not do.

Good examples of this are abundant in the Republican Party for example. (Largely, in my opinion, due to the fact that they are heavily financed by the Chamber of Commerce and Big Oil lobbies--both of which are top 5 lobby groups.)

This results in the GOP as a party being almost always opposed to any regulation of company emissions, auto emissions, and attempting to battle climate change.

Now, let me be clear: we, the consumers, are the true villains here. We want to consume everything, and conveniently; as such, corporations provide a supply for what we demand, and expect to make a profit. So anything which gets in the way of that profit--like, for example, alternative energy, ethical treatment of animals, or pollution reduction--is cast aside as "anti-jobs" or "anti-business."

The practical result is that many politicians support policies which actively and consistently harm the environment, and we as Christians are in fact charged to govern and protect said Creation in Genesis 1--and they make this a party platform, so anyone in their party who is elected, in effect, is often arm-twisted into voting in this way..

Test 2: Opposing Murder in All Forms.

Pro-choice is the worst offender here, as abortion accounts for about 10 Holocausts-worth of baby deaths so far according to the Guttmacher Institute statistics. Human life, depending on your interpretation of Scripture, either begins with conception or the heartbeat...thus in the conservative case (heartbeat), there have been at least 58 million murders in the US alone. This is generally speaking a Democratic position.

In addition, under Obama's presidency, we have seen drone strikes become a common and horrific method of warfare, which frequently results in accidental murder of non-combatants, such as the killing of 42 in a Doctors Without Borders hospital.

Nearly approaching abortion in terms of evil, it was a Democratic president who dropped two atomic bombs, killing approximately 250,000 people, of whom 92% were innocent civilians. If we are to be honest and objective, this ranks among the worst war crimes in history from a Christian viewpoint, based on the insanely high percentage of non-combatants killed.

The Republicans are not free of this category either, though. It is generally speaking Republicans who engage in preemptive wars--that is, "fight the war there before it comes here", which in most Christian scholarship throughout history is never justifiable. We saw this most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, under George W Bush's administration.

Likewise, the Republicans are generally speaking very pro-death penalty, which can only be Biblically defended for Gentiles in the case of murder ...but the GOP is willing to apply the principle in much wider cases.

We simply as Christians cannot ignore one basic fact:  both of our major political parties actively pursue policies which are, under Biblical definition, murder.

Test 3: Religious Liberty

Although some would disagree, I think both parties pass on this one.

Sure, the Republicans tend to be a bit too anti-Muslim for my tastes, and the Democrats too anti-Christian, but I have traveled the world and can tell you that even the extremes in America are still exceptionally tolerant compared to most of the world.

We don't have much to complain on here.

Test 4:  Social Justice

Neither party has clean hands in social justice, either.

It was the Democratic party who voted unanimously against emancipating slaves and against the Civil Rights Act. It is the Democrats who back abortion, which disproportionately affects minorities--and whose founder outspokenly saw abortion as a benefit for eugenics, "thinning out the herd" of "undesirables" who just so happen, coincidentally, to be not white. Also, it is generally the Democratic party who opposes faith-based programs, even if they are aimed at the same goals. Basically if your social justice also includes handing out Bibles, many Democratic politicians aren't interested.

Meanwhile, it is the Republican party who generally hampers attempts at expanding welfare or healthcare for the poor, is discriminatory against minorities today, wants a wall on the "brown" border (Mexico) but not on the "white" border (Canada), and fights harshly to defend tax breaks for the wealthy.

In addition, both parties have cooperated together to create a bloated and labyrinthine government with systems which--although great at perpetuating their own power--are nonetheless disproportionately unfair to minorities and the poor (regardless of race).

The Moral Dilemma

So the moral dilemma, then, is that any vote you cast continues the power of a Party which has a long and thorough history of opposing Biblical values.

I find, then, that just as Moore concluded with regard to candidates, I cannot in good conscience continue to support either party with my votes, unless the party platforms agree to change in these key areas.

In other words -

  • Until the GOP says publicly and demonstrates with actions that they will become more dovish on war, more compassionate on capital punishment, and take better care of the environment...then I cannot support their candidates.
  • Until the Democratic Party says publicly and demonstrates with actions that they will eliminate abortions, and will end horrific practices in their past (and current) like drone strikes and use of weapons of mass destruction...then I cannot support their candidates.
  • Until BOTH parties start taking social justice seriously (neither ignoring it as the GOP nor paying ineffective lip-service to it as the Democratic Party)...then I cannot support their candidates.

My Conclusion

So my subconclusions are:

  1. As a citizen, I owe it to my country to vote (as Moore argued, changing my mind).
  2. I cannot in general support the Republican or Democratic Parties.
  3. Going back several decades, there has not been a Republican or Democrat since Reagan for whom I should have voted, and even Reagan had some caveats.
  4. As long as the two-party system remains in place, the likelihood of having a party follow these four moral rules is negligible.
  5. The Libertarian Party is the most likely party (on the ballot in 49 states) to be able to break the two-party system.

Which leads me to my overall conclusion, and how I will vote in this election and going forward.

From now on, I will actively oppose both the Republican and Democratic parties and their mutual protection of the two-party system, which continues to limit our choices.

Thus, my final conclusions:

  1. I will vote in every election.
  2. I will always vote for a third-party candidate--never again for a Republican or Democrat until their parties change their anti-Christian platforms
  3. If an acceptable third-party candidate is unavailable I will write in a choice.
I will not, going forward, vote either Republican or Democrat because I cannot support such morally repugnant parties staying in power. In the end, either party will lead us to ruin--they will simply do it in different paths. But the end result remains the same.

It is a folly to believe the lie of the current powers, which is that given two terrible choices, we should pick the less terrible. The better option is to cast your vote in a way that might make meaningful change in the long-term by creating more choices than only those two.

So if you wonder where I stand, for all intents and purposes going forward, I am an Independent voter who will support any third-party which is likely to break the two-party corruption of our current government; if I also find the only available third-party candidates morally repugnant, then I will do my duty as a citizen and write in a politican as my vote who could actually do the job.

I recommend that you do the same.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Christian Disciplines, Part V: Service

This is Part 5 of a five-part series on the Christian Disciplines. It is a "how-to" manual, or "what mature Christianity looks like." It borrows heavily from Richard Foster's, "Celebration of Discipline" and I highly recommend it. A new post will be made each Wednesday. To view them all together, click on the "Series: Christian Disciplines" link on the right.


So far this series, we have discussed the brokenness of our world, and the need for us to serve the world and help take part in God’s mission to bring shalom. We have discussed the importance of having the right attitude for service (an attitude of submission to each other). We have discussed the necessity of simplifying our lives so that we can serve.

Well then--let us talk about how to serve.

As with fasting, the Bible is clear that it is the heart which makes the biggest impact in serving: why do you do it? Jesus says that you will be rewarded for serving…but if you are doing it self-righteously, for honor or gains here on Earth, then those will be your only reward: this is not Biblical service. Serving someone Biblically means doing the right thing for them no matter who they are, no matter what they need. True service is indiscriminate—Jesus was the servant of all (Mark 9:35).

This is something Christians often miss: often we are willing to serve but only if someone agrees with us; we are not willing to meet the needs of those who disagree with our faith or our values. We justify it as ‘taking a stand’ for our faith. Yet taking a stand for our faith would be evangelizing the person who is in need—not withholding service from them. The mark of Christians is that we willingly give up our rights and serve everyone, so that we may win as many as possible for Christ (1 Cor 9:19). We must challenge ourselves to serve those who are enemies (politically or otherwise)—but also share with them the Good News that they need not stay that way.

The calling to serve others reminds us that we are here to be God’s hands and feet to those whom He loves—and God loves all. We fail our task if we withhold our services for any reason, just as we fail our task if we serve but desire recognition or prestige or payment for it. No, Christian service is the outpouring of a life of simplicity and submission: we are untied to the things of this world and we do not care what others think of us…therefore can truly and radically aid those in need. 

Also, avoid the error of thinking that it must be “big” things. A church in Ohio made a name for themselves because one small group did random things for the community without cause or cost each Saturday—one week scrubbing all the gas station toilets in their area, one week using umbrellas to walk people through the rain from the local grocery store to their cars, etc. Many were shocked by the discipline of service and felt loved by them.

The world is broken in small ways (like dirty gas station toilets) and big ways (like major orphan problems in Romania and Ethiopia). We, as God’s people, are called to be the ones bringing healing and wholeness…we are called to fix the brokenness. Be active in bringing the much-needed shalom.

There are three primary things that God gives you to serve. If you have been following with us up to this point, then you are in communion with Him through meditation, prayer and fasting; you are aware of your responsibility to help the world through your study; you are not attached to the things of this world or burdened with an overwhelmed schedule due to the practice of simplicity; and you care more about others than yourself due to the art of submission. As a result, you are now ready to serve the world as a disciple of Jesus.

Time:  We all have time that we can give to help others, and there is always a need. The church grounds always need maintenance; children’s ministries and guest service need volunteers; you can go give out donuts or sodas to those stuck in traffic jams; you can help people load their grocery bags into cars; roadways need trash picked up; hand out Gatorade at biking trails; clean up at food courts in the mall. We all have 168 hours of every week. Assuming you are spending 8 hours a day sleeping, 8 hours a day working, and 3 hours a day in commutes and mealtime, that is 35 hours per week of available time. I’m not guilting you to say it should all be service, but it is really hard to look ourselves in the mirrors and honestly say we don’t have time to serve when we manage to have time to binge-watch Netflix or play a new video game or watch three movies. The mature Christian makes giving your time to others a priority.

Talent: The ideas above require no special talent, just a giving of your time. But each of us have special gifts that can help bring shalom into the world—indeed, it is why we were created. We are each instruments of an orchestra with a slightly different sound, and your talent is needed. Whatever your talent, there is a use to it. In the Didache, it seems that many first century Christians actually tithed their talents to the church body—bakers brought a tenth of their bread to feed the congregation on Sunday, tailors made 10% more clothing and gave it to the poor, doctors spent part of each week giving free medical care/advice to sick parishioners, scribes and scholars translated documents, artists painted for the church. Whatever your talent, there is a way to serve your church body and community with it—be creative, it’s why God made you!

Treasure:  We also each have been given finances and we are entrusted as its stewards. Its purpose is to bring others into the faith. As I have taught several times before, I do not hold that tithing a set value (10%) is required; instead, we are each to examine ourselves and give cheerfully and sacrificially. Interestingly, I have found that being freed from the idea of tithing, I actually give more than 10%, not less! Whatever you can give, do so: it is the heart and sacrifice that matter, as Jesus makes clear (Mark 12:42). Jesus fascinatingly says that where we spend our money, we will find our heart caring more about that thing…so where do you spend yours? (Luke 12:34; Matt 6:21)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Christian Disciplines, Part IV: Simplicity

This is Part 4 of a five-part series on the Christian Disciplines. It is a "how-to" manual, or "what mature Christianity looks like." It borrows heavily from Richard Foster's, "Celebration of Discipline" and I highly recommend it. A new post will be made each Wednesday. To view them all together, click on the "Series: Christian Disciplines" link on the right.


In 1961, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short story about the future called Harrison Bergeron. In it, Vonnegut pictured a future where everyone was forced to be perfectly equal so that no one was below (or above) anyone else. In order to equalize those who were of high intelligence, they had to wear earpieces. Every ten seconds or so, distracting sounds were blasted into the ears, so that no one could actually have time to focus and think about topics deeply or meaningfully. In a lot of ways, Vonnegut described us, today.  We live in the most distracting, overwhelming society which has ever lived. Every minute of your life, you swim through a river of sensation—radio waves, Wifi, television, phone calls, texts, ads on buses that drive past, blogs and tweets and vines…every day you are bombarded with a million signals vying for your attention, forming a near-impenetrable and always-present noise around you.

Our society thrives on distraction through complexity. We are, in many ways, enslaved by it. Some people have clinical anxiety problems, but most of us deal with panic and worry and anxiety for other reasons. If you were to make a list of your anxieties, what would you find? I would bet that most of your anxieties have to do with one of three things:  (1) getting some new thing or experience that others have; (2) maintaining the things that you have already gotten; or (3) keeping what we have gotten for ourselves.

Seriously, think it through. If you make a list of your anxieties from the past week, it is usually one of these things. Maybe it was stress about how to get your family to all of the sports your kids are signed up for; maybe it is a hassle because the new pool you’ve always wanted to build is causing problems; maybe it is the need to work a second job to pay for a lifestyle you really can’t afford; maybe it is obsessing about how to make your vacation Instagram-worthy instead of just enjoying it. We are fish, swimming in a sea of complexity.

I’m not saying that we all go join monasteries; however, for most of Christian history, serious Christians were known for their extreme simplicity in life. That is no longer the case today—much to our detriment. We spend money we do not have, to buy things we do not need, to impress people we do not like. Instead, the idea of Christian simplicity (to paraphrase Kierkegaard) is this:  purity is to will one thing—and only one thing.

Simplicity is freedom, and we must fight for it. Because…without simplicity, serving others is impossible. How can you stop and help the person whose car broke down when your schedule is so packed that a ten minute delay throws off the whole day? How can you build a sense of community if every minute of every day is filled? Haven’t you had a number of times when someone asked you to hang out, or you saw someone who could use help…and you had to pass the opportunity by because your schedule was just so busy? We must seek simplicity in our lives, intentionally.

In the fantastic Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster suggests several principles to help reach Christian simplicity; I will include 7 that really apply in our time below:

1.       Buy things for usefulness, not status. Don’t buy things for their status or fanciness—why spend triple for a Bentley when a Camry will do? Why buy a Camry if a bicycle will do? Buy new clothing because your old ones wore out or do not fit, not to keep up with the latest fashion trends.  Living simple means less debt, less waste, and more freedom.

2.       Reject anything that addicts you. If you cannot do without something, then get rid of it: imagine how much simpler and freer life will be if you break that addiction from Facebook or caffeine or whatever dominates your day.

3.       Become a habitual giver. Give things away. CONSTANTLY. Every month, take boxes of still-working things out of your house to Goodwill or Salvation Army. Every paycheck, give a sizeable amount to charities—if that sounds like us asking for cash, then by all means give it all to a charity. But give it somewhere. De-accumulating leads to freedom of the soul.

4.       Keep your schedule clear. Don’t overpack your schedule (parents we are really bad about this with our kids!) It leaves no room. Embrace the principle—long taught in Christianity—called holy leisure. It is only through purposefully protecting your schedule from constant busy-ness that you are capable of hearing from God.

5.       Gain a deeper appreciation for nature. Garden. Take a short walk each day. Sit on your porch with a beverage every night. Purposefully take some time without distraction, without electronics, to simply hear the birds and marvel at the beauty of God’s creation.

6.       Be wary of debt. “Buy now, pay later” sounds great in theory, but here’s the thing—that massive soulless corporation isn’t offering you that because it’s a good deal for you, they are offering it because it is a good deal for them. If you can’t afford something you ought not be buying it.

Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain honest speech. “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no—all else is from the Devil.” (Matt 5:37) Our lives get a whole lot simpler when we just speak the truth, plainly and simply, instead of always having to figure out what each other really mean. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Christian Disciplines, Part III: Submission

This is Part 3 of a five-part series on the Christian Disciplines. It is a "how-to" manual, or "what mature Christianity looks like." It borrows heavily from Richard Foster's, "Celebration of Discipline" and I highly recommend it. A new post will be made each Wednesday. To view them all together, click on the "Series: Christian Disciplines" link on the right.



In the past two posts, we learned how to study Scripture and how to pray. Those are hopefully by now your daily rhythms of your life, and please do not abandon those. Today we will talk about the discipline of Submission, but before we do, let's stop for a moment and learn about a particularly important Biblical concept.

One of the key ideas in Scripture is the idea of shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word which appears in the Old Testament over 200 times, and it is usually translated as “peace.” Shalom, however, has a much more deep meaning than this.

Shalom has the idea of wholeness or complete health. Medically, the term shalom implies that someone is of sound mind and body—there are no diseases or pains affecting him, he is “whole.” To be in shalom means to be in harmony with our design by God.

Ancient Jewish commentators on the Bible point out that the entire purpose of the Old Testament is to show the brokenness of peace and return us back to it: “All that is written in the Torah was written for the sake of shalom[1].” It is even part of the name Jerusalem (which literally means, “peace is found”). Proverbs 3:17 says that wisdom always leads to shalom.

The lack of shalom shows up in our marriages as divorce, in our families as abandoned children, in our politics as war, in our society as injustice toward the poor or other races, in our bodies as sickness and suffering, in our sexual relationships as adultery or homosexuality, in our relationships as hatred or mean-spirited talk, in nature as deadly disasters. All the suffering and sin we experience are the results of a world whose shalom is broken.

When God designed the world, all was in harmony with His will—until Genesis 3. At the Fall, we find that God’s shalom is broken. All our suffering, all our rebellion, only increases its brokenness. And we know that all of God’s creation is groaning, eagerly anticipating the day that Messiah will return and bring lasting shalom (Rom 8:19).

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.       (Matt 5:9)

Jesus called being a peace-maker a “beatitude” or supreme blessing, and said that these are the people who would be called the children of God. And Romans 8:19 tells us that “creation waits in eager anticipation for the children of God to be revealed.

So when Jesus blesses His followers who are peace-makers, or shalom-makers, He is speaking of us actively seeking to create shalom in the world: to actively seek to restore the earth to the position it was supposed to be.

You see then that peacemaking includes everything as widespread as healing broken marriages and restoring addicts and protecting the environment and preventing fighting and war. By using the word “peacemakers” in this passage, Jesus is directly stating that peace is something to be made—He is saying that those who have this worldview actively seek out opportunities to make peace, to bring reconciliation.

In fact, what is fascinating about Scripture is that if wronged someone, it is your responsibility to make things right…and if you were wronged, it is your responsibility to make it right. It is always your responsibility!  No matter what, a peacemaker always sees it is his or her responsibility to bring unit, no matter who “started it.” (Matt 5:23, Matt 18:22).

So if we are to learn to serve others and be Shalom-makers in our communities, how are we to accomplish this? All true service begins with a particular attitude—an attitude taught to us by Jesus Himself. It is called submission.

Submission is among the most powerful, and most abused, spiritual disciplines. The discipline of submission is the willing release of your power, your rights, and your interests and instead to focus on the power, rights, and interests of others.

It is perhaps most easily understood by those who have recently had a baby. From the moment that the baby is born, the parents make willing choices to change their entire lives—they put their own desires, schedules, needs, and rights on hold and instead serve willingly and passionately this small child who can do nothing to return the love. This is a great picture of submission, and it is this which we are supposed to exhibit to the rest of the world.

Christian submission is to hold others above ourselves, and to give away our interests. Jesus implies that this is the most noticeable outward trait of a Christian, saying that the very life of a believer is to give his own life away (Mark 8:35).

Do not underestimate the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching on submission; it is almost beyond question the most amazing and shocking thing He said, and He said it often. Jesus completely flips the power structure of the world upside down. He says that a believer understands that true power comes by giving away your power; true status is reserved for those who give away their status and privilege; Scripture says that you are at your best when you consider everyone else better than yourself (Phil 2:3)! And He applies this posture equally to all Christians: men and women, Jew and Gentile, slave and free.

Jesus lived a life of submission and therein defeated even death; if we wish truly to exhibit God’s power, we must submit and give away all the power and privilege that we have.  Unlike other religions, with their powerful priesthood, the elders and pastors were, according to Christianity, mere shepherds—servants doing the ‘dirty work’ to make the sheep’s lives better.

Submission is not popular in our society—it is the opposite of our society, in fact. Submission requires true humility: thinking of others before yourself, being willing to allow others to prosper even if it costs you everything. Submission means caring more about shalom than about your own personal rights and privileges.

Here are seven areas to focus on submission in your lives. Read and discuss each as a group.

1.       Submission to God. The first and key area of submission comes in submission to God. The very act of salvation, at its heart, is this step—the willingness to say that I am no longer going to seek to be my own god, but instead will follow the one True God. “Thy will be done,” is the basic foundation that is at the base of every believer’s heart.

2.       Submission to Scripture. The ordinary way that God speaks to us is through His written word. By submitting to Scripture we are willing to not only hear the word of God but also to do what He tells us to do. As we discussed in weeks 5-6, it is important that we are properly interpreting Scripture so that we are actually submitting to what it says and not what we wish it said.

3.       Submission to Family. Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-22 both discuss how to submit to each other in the household—and yes, it is submit to each other (Eph 5:21). To the readers of these texts, women, children, and slaves were required to submit by force of law; however, the Gospel freed them from these positions (Gal 3:28). The Gospel frees them from their earthly chains. Now, however, the Scriptures say—freely submit to one another, not because the law demands it, but because you love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Freely and graciously the family is to make allowance for each other and give each other love, respect, and everything that you have.

4.       Submission to Neighbors.  Human nature wants to stereotype and look down on those who are not part of our ‘in-group’; a Jesus-shaped spirituality sees everyone we meet as a neighbor and, like the Good Samaritan, we are willing to give everything and share everything to love them.

5.       Submission to the Church. We all are also part of a new family, a universal church, and we are to submit to each other. This might come in large ways such as serving as a missionary or giving sacrificially to support missionaries; or it may come in small trivial spontaneous acts of service like cutting the lawn at the church or emptying a trash can or giving a youth kid a ride home each week.

6.       Submission to the Despised. One of the best ways to judge your submissiveness is to ask yourself this question honestly—“What am I doing to help those who are invisible to society?” Our society makes the elderly, the orphan, the immigrant, the poor, and the prisoner (among others) invisible to “polite society.” People want to be able to ignore them by giving a bit more in taxes and letting the government handle them quietly, out of the way. This was not Jesus’ way. We are to seek them, submit our lives to them, and better them.

Submission to the World. We are not only to concern ourselves with those in our sphere of influence. All of humanity bears the image Deo, and is worthy of being a recipient of our love and submission. We are submit ourselves to all, even those who would kill us or harm us. This was Jesus’ way, and the foundation of all service and, therefore, the foundation of rebuilding shalom.

[1] Tanhuma Shofetim 18

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Transgenderism from a Theological Perspective

Transgenderism is widely spread among news stories today and--being a relatively salacious topic--is one of those things which is widely discussed.

But what I find most valuable to discuss, and what I find rarely to be discussed, is this: how should Christians think about transgenderism from a theological/philosophical perspective?

The Christians I have spoken with on the topic give extremely predictable responses:  those who voted for a Democrat in the last election would talk about protecting the rights of the transgender as a social justice role; those who voted for a Republican in the last election would talk about it as unnatural and a further slide down an increasingly-slippery slope.

In other words--at least in my experience, Christians are viewing this issue primarily through their political prisms, rather than through a theological one.

Due to confirmation bias, this is exceptionally easy to fall into--but this doesn't make it right.

So I want to spend today talking about transgenderism from a theological basis.

Starting Place:  The Redemptive Hermeneutic

To begin with, I highly suggest reading my post on "De-Confusing the Bible," as it provides a great aid in viewing the issue.

As discussed in that article, it is valuable to view the following picture to describe the history of humanity from a Christian perspective.

God created the world pure and good, so whenever we want to know the "Paradise" state we look at Gen 1-2.

Due to sin, we had "Paradise Lost" and live in a fallen world (Gen 3).

In the end, Jesus will return and give us "Paradise Regained" (Rev 20-21).

Right now, we live in the period of Redemption--a period that sees the "seed" of redemption in the Old Testament law, redemption which bloomed in the first-fruits of Jesus, and which we as the Church are now spreading throughout the world.

So, this is our starting place.

Where Transgenderism Fits

Gender at the time of Creation

Our starting place always must be -- what is the original state of creation? In that, we see God's plan for our lives.

The original state of creation from a gender standpoint is that gender is a part of Creation:  "So God created mankind in His own image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them."

So this gives us our first data point:  genders are a "good thing"--that is, they are not a result of the Fall. Those who report feeling genderfluid--that their gender changes and then changes back later--cannot be defended on a Scriptural basis.

So we start with one clear statement--God creates us with a particular gender, and that particular gender is a good thing, it is not a part of the Fall, but a part of Creation.

Gender at the time of Restoration

We know therefore that at the Restoration, when Jesus comes back and the Kingdom of God is established, all issues with gender confusion will be defeated.

Hearing this should be a tremendous relief to  those who have lived in a state of paralyzing identity crisis over their gender; there is a gender that God created for each of us, and the identity crisis will not be the case for eternity. When we receive our resurrected bodies, we will all find that we are comfortable in our own skin!

Gender during the Fall

The question becomes--what impact does the Fall have on us? The Fall, by matter of breaking the very nature of reality, can affect gender in three ways that I can think of (no particular order):

  1. Spiritual:  as a result of the Fall, sin and spiritual deadness can make us seek identity in things other than God, which could result in a conscious or subconscious rebellion against the gender roles assigned to us by God;
  2. Physical:  as a result of the Fall, birth defects happen and it is certainly feasible that one might be born with the wrong set of genitalia (or both sets, as in the case of hermaphrodites); and
  3. Psychological:  as a result of the Fall, we are all psychologically broken and the environments (nurture) in which we are raised are also psychologically and spiritually broken, so it is entirely feasible that the manner in which one is raised, and their experiences in life, could cause confusion in gender identity.

Thus, from the Fall we have three potential causes of gender confusion.

Gender during the Redemption Period

All of this leads us to today--what can we, as the Church, do to assist in redeeming the situations to the greatest of our ability?

If we look at the three potential causes, we see that the actions required to bring redemption or healing are radically different.

  1. If the cause of the gender identity confusion is predominantly spiritual in nature, then the only way to "fix" the identity crisis will be a firmer rooting of the individual's identity in Christ. Gender reassignment surgery and/or hormonal efforts will do nothing to ease the identity problem. In this case, they have the appropriate body parts and the appropriate psychological consistency to live a fulfilled and happy life, they simply need spiritual healing in order to move from a state of "fallen" toward a state of "restoration."
  2. If the cause of the gender identity confusion is due to a birth defect, such as being born with the wrong genitalia, then gender sex change operations and/or hormonal therapy will be the only way to heal the issue. This is the only option in that case for moving one from fallen to restoration in this area.
  3. If the cause of the issue is primarily psychological, then sex change operations or spiritual focusing will have little impact unless the underlying psychological issues are dealt with. It has been suggested in the past that this is why post-op transgenders have such a radically high rate of depression and suicide.

The Crux of the Issue

What makes this particular issue so difficult is two-fold:  first, there is (with very rare exceptions) no scientific method of determining the root cause of the gender confusion from among the three options; and second, to perform the wrong action is devastating.

This cannot be overlooked. If the primary cause of gender dysphoria for an individual is spiritual or psychological in nature, then a sex change operation is the last thing they need--it will not solve the problem, and yet will cause massive impact to their lives financially, physically, socially, and emotionally. Post-operation, suicide attempts spike to an astonishing 41%, compared to only 10% pre-operation and only 2% in the general population. That is, roughly half of all people after undergoing sex change operations decide the only next step is to end their lives.

However, if the issue is physical due to a birth defect, then no amount of praying or psychological evaluation is going to fix the concern. They will be forced to live in that scenario for their lives--and you can just imagine what it would be like to live with both sets of genitalia, or to lose yours in an accident; it would be a major impact on your mental health.

Managing Risk

What often happens is that you end up having to manage risk.

Since there is no way to be certain of the root cause, you must choose to manage each of these as "false alarm" (alpha) risks or "false positive" (beta) risks.

Assuming it is Spiritual:
  • Alpha risk:  if we assume it is spiritual and it isn't, then the person lives in a state of identity crisis. Furthermore they may become turned off of Christianity after "praying it away" fails to work.
  • Beta risk:  if we assume it is NOT spiritual and it is, then you will never address the root cause so you still end up living in the state of identity crisis--plus you have spent time and money in either psychological or physical cures which may not be reversible.

Assuming it is Physical:
  • Alpha risk:  if we assume it is physical/biological birth defect and it isn't, then you undergo a massive elective surgery which is physically brutal, and financially and emotionally expensive, and your risk of suicidal-level depression rises 400%.
  • Beta risk:  if we assume it is NOT physical and it is, then you will continue to live in a state of identity crisis/discomfort.
Assuming it is Psychological:
  • Alpha risk:  if we assume it is psychological and it isn't, then you end up wasting time and money in psychological treatments which will likely be ineffective, as well as staying in the same state of identity crisis.
  • Beta risk:  if we assume it is NOT psychological and it is, then you will fail to address the root cause of the issue, maintain the identity crisis, and possibly undergo massive sex change operations as well.

Viewed through this prism, we can provide wise advice to those in our lives who feel this way.

Conclusions to Draw

  1. Surgery is the last possible option. 

    The worst-case risk above is the alpha error of assuming it is physical/biological, if it turns out to be spiritual or psychological. As such, discussion of a sex change operation should be either (a) not even considered or (b) an absolutely desperate last-case scenario only after all other attempts have failed. In no other situation would we allow such a risky surgery for something that cannot be proved; this would be akin to addressing ADD with a partial lobotomy: it is an extremely high-risk surgery for something that we cannot be certain fixes the issue. Permanent solutions to uncertain problems are never a wise approach, so before we start encouraging people on such a path we must be absolutely certain that there is no other option.
  2. We must all begin by admitting that there is no blanket answer.It is not okay for the conservative Christian to simply assume that all transgender people simply "need Jesus or a shrink", nor for all liberal Christians to simply assume that they need sex change operations. Both are SERIOUS errors.

    We are called, above all else to LOVE one another. That means giving wise advice. Which means understanding their individual scenario. Which means--in a case like this, where there is no scientific way to know precisely what the root cause is--that we should not jump to conclusions.

    However, it also means that we cannot simply "trust their feelings," for if the problem is either spiritual or psychological, then their feelings are in fact broken as well!

  3. The goal is to lovingly restore each individual person.

    Love must be our overriding issue. And love wants what is best for a person--no matter if that is uncomfortable for me, or uncomfortable for them.

    There is nothing loving about enabling someone with psychological problems to lop off body parts. There is ALSO nothing loving about going up to someone with a physical birth defect and denying them surgery because you don't believe that it really is an issue.

    Loving is hard, because it requires us to ask questions we wouldn't normally ask, and see things from their perspectives.
  4. We all must break out of our politics and see them as people.

    We all have too much tendency to think of this issue politically. What is written above is--I believe--simply clear logic and falls out naturally from what we know about the issue and the Bible.

    However, many of you will disagree with portions above. The reason isn't Biblical, or scientific. The reason is emotional--because you want to defend your particular position, because it via confirmation bias, confirms your existing beliefs about your party and the other party.

    We don't like to see ourselves this way, but it's true. Democrats are using the transgender community to further one agenda; conservatives, to further a different agenda. Christians who view the issue through those prisms will simply be puppets to the same.

    Loving a person means wanting to see them moved from broken to restoration. Gender dysphoria must be devastating to a person, and they deserve every bit of compassion and love we have. But also, that doesn't mean teaching them that gender reassignment is the right approach--necessarily. It depends on the individual situation.
  5. Which leaves me with my final, and most key point:  Do not make statements about generalities, only speak about individuals whom YOU KNOW.

    If you go around saying, "Sex change operations help so many people," or saying, "Trans people are just spiritually lost," I am going to ask a simple question.

    "Tell me of one of your close friends who has been through this. Tell me their story. How long have you known them? When did you first begin discussing it? What was trialed before you reached your conclusion?"

    If the answer is--as it usually is--that you actually don't know anyone in this scenario, then may I respectfully ask that you (and I!) keep our mouths shut here?

    As we've shown above, the situation of moving fallen people from gender confusion to gender restoration differs greatly by situation, and therefore we cannot make blanket statements.

    We are neither loving people nor helping them in their times of crisis, by making generic statements or assumptions which can then be repeated to everyone else who might be in different situations.

    Rather, in discussing the issue, we should all admit that there are three potential causes; that it is impossible to prove which is the case; it is impossible to even make an educated guess unless we are extremely close friends with the person; that some actions are extremely dangerous if wrong; and that we need to treat each one on a case-by-case basis with the primary goal being to restore them to the way God made them.