Category Archives: Freedom

My Church Started Speaking Another Language (and it wasn’t unknown tongues)

Rodolfo has been taking care of my yard for three or four years. He does a great job and is one of the hardest working guys I know. I see him all over the neighborhood, mowing and trimming grass. He tends to residential lawns as well as commercial property. We got hooked up because he was doing my next-door neighbor’s yard and I needed someone. I caught him one day and suggested he could make us both a good deal since our yards were essentially one. He agreed.

He no longer does the yards of any of my immediate neighbors, but he still does mine. I’ve increased what I pay him, not because he has ever asked for more but just because I thought it was more fair.

Rodolfo is probably about 50 years old, has a couple of daughters in college, and a wife who sometimes works with him. He has long hair that hangs in a ponytail halfway down his back. Also, he speaks less English than I speak Spanish. Yet we communicate. If I need him to do something that requires complex explanation, I’ll leave a message on his phone and his daughter will call back and explain to her dad what I need. Done, it’s taken care of.Language

I like Rodolfo, and I think he likes me. We try to communicate beyond, “Buenos Dias,” and a few arm waves, but we don’t get much further. Until one of us bites the bullet and learns the language, Rodolfo and I will never be close friends. Communication is an integral part of relationships.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who build a relationship strictly on language and very little else. I guess the clearest example of this is our Facebook friends. I have 1,143 Facebook friends. I know that a few of that number have died, and a high percentage of those still living have never been in the same room with me at any time in our lives. We are friends only in the sense that we speak a common language.

I’ve lost many Facebook friends over the years because of the language I speak on Facebook. To be honest, none of my siblings are on my Friend’s List. They’ve never said anything, but I don’t think they like my politics. Since we speak a different language, we find it challenging to be Facebook Friends. (Don’t worry, in real life we are good.)

Only relating to those who speak the same language would be boring and unfulfilling. Who would do my yard for me? I guess I could hire some high school kid to mow the grass, but I’m not sure we would communicate any better.

If you only relate to those who speak the same language, you will find yourself isolated from much of the world. Do it long enough, and you essentially become useless to the world, since the only thing you know is the same things your friends already know. That’s why it’s dangerous to get all your news and information from one source and surround yourself with only people who see the world the same way you do. When that occurs, you don’t actually have a relationship; all you have is a common language.

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The Unfairness of God

During our Sunday morning gathering today, the discussion wandered into the subject of the unfairness of life. I don’t know about you, but even though life has been good to me, it has not been fair.

Many years ago, when my mind was quicker and my decision-making ability keener, I was hired to work in communications at the police department in the northern suburbs of Denver. It was the place where they answer the 911 calls and talk on the radio to police and other emergency responders. They were desperately seeking someone with my skill set and experience, so to entice me to leave the job I already had, they offered me more money than normal. That kind of opportunity does not come around very often, so I took the position.

However, it created a rather awkward situation where I was making more money than my supervisor. I was sworn to secrecy, and I did my part to keep my salary to myself. After several months, somehow, she discovered how much I was being paid and, needless to say, she did not take the news well. For some reason, she chose to take out her frustration on me.Unfairness of God

Her salary had nothing to do with me. Before I arrived, she was content with her wages. When she discovered that I was making more money, all of sudden she felt that she was being treated unfairly. Although she and I never discussed the situation, it was not a good environment. She blamed me for the fact that she was treated unfairly.

I have thought about this experience many times over the years as I have seen how people like to compare their income with the incomes of those around them. Many of us like to determine our value by the wages we earn, so when someone makes more money, they must be a better person in some way. Jesus told us that money is a powerful force.

However, the real issue for my supervisor was fairness. It was not fair that she was paid less even though she was in charge and had seniority. We like to speak of being treated fairly. That is all that we really want – just give us our fair share. The word “fair” means to be just, reasonable, or impartial.

Jesus spoke a parable about this kind of fairness (see Matthew 20). A landowner hired a group of laborers to work his field all day for an agreed upon price. The task was larger than first thought, so he returned every few hours to secure more laborers. This process continued all day, until the eleventh hour, just sixty minutes before the end of the day. The early morning crew must have been curious all day long, wondering how much the late arrivers were going to be paid.

They did not wait long to find out since the ones who arrived late were the first to be paid. The early risers must have been very excited to note that the late arrivers received a full day’s pay. That must mean they would be paid extra, the only fair thing to do. However, their excitement turned quickly into despair and then anger when they realized they would only receive the agreed upon price they had negotiated at the beginning of the day. Those who worked one hour were paid the identical amount as those who labored all day. That does not seem fair!

However, what the laborers defined as “unfairness,” the landowner called it “generosity.” He was completely fair since he had kept his word and paid them as promised. Their problem was his generosity toward others.

If you have lived more than a few years with your eyes open, you have discovered that we do not live in a fair world. We are all distinguished by a unique set of physical characteristics, mental capabilities, and life experiences. I have been blessed with abundance in many ways, but it is not fair that I have never been able to simply stand up and walk across the room. As long as we reside in this world, unfairness will be a part of our experience.

An equally important truth is that we really do not want fairness from God. I don’t want God to give me what I deserve; what I earn. I hope and pray that He is generous. That is why we should never begrudge His generosity toward others.

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Patriotism is Not Militarism

When did patriotism become militarism? The dictionary definition of militarism is “the tendency to regard military efficiency as the supreme ideal of the state and to subordinate all other interests to those of the military.” It seems that many Americans are content to define patriotism as nothing more than supporting the military.

As we commemorate the Fourth of July, Independence Day, it should be a celebration of freedom, not military power. Freedom is the greatest possession we have because of our citizenship. Preceding generations fought wars to secure and preserve that freedom, but that doesn’t mean we celebrate the warfare.

The last war fought in order to maintain our freedom was World War II. All the wars we have fought since then have done little to preserve that freedom. In my lifetime, we fought a war in Korea to keep one country from invading another. In Vietnam, we fought against the feared “Domino Effect” of losing a country to communism. Desert Storm was for the purpose of protecting our oil interests in a small country. Beginning in 2001, we have fought the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. You can say that Afghanistan was retaliation against an attack, but Iraq served no purpose at all. After nearly two decades, this war still rages with no end in sight.Militarism

Yet, Independence Day arrives, and we celebrate the war machine as if it’s the only thing worth celebrating. Patriotism is now measured by how much we appreciate the military. If you suggest any improvement that needs to happen in our country, then you are considered unpatriotic, but most importantly, you don’t support our troops. When athletes chose not to stand during the national anthem to protest police violence against blacks, they were accused of hating soldiers. Their protest had nothing to do with the military.

I remember when the Fourth of July was America’s birthday, and we celebrated the life of our nation, not our killing ability. The biggest celebration planned this year is a massive military parade in Washington where our President, like a dictator, can require “his army” to parade before him in a show of force.

Everyone already knows our military is the most powerful. It should be. We spend more than the rest of the world combined to make it possible. But a powerful military is not what makes being an American special. Our country has been at war for half my life, yet not once has our freedom been threatened. Millions of people have died in these senseless wars, and I find it difficult to celebrate the fact that our military can do it all again without missing a beat.

It’s time to celebrate the good things about the United States—things like freedom of speech, a strong resilient economy, a beautiful country with vast open spaces and sprawling cities. It’s time to celebrate our neighborhoods where people gather in ethnic clusters and create eclectic communities. We can celebrate the fact that the United States is a melting pot, a hodgepodge of cultures, lifestyles, appetites, and preferences.

The thing that holds us together is not our military, it’s our freedom. The freedom to be whoever we are or the freedom to be like everyone else. The freedom to say whatever we want or to blend in with the majority. The freedom to go it alone or stay with a group. The freedom to vote however we want without having our patriotism challenged.

And perhaps, most importantly, the freedom to say thank you to our military without acknowledging that they are the most important element of America. Some will be quick to say that if it were not for the military, then we would not have freedom. While that’s probably true, it’s also true that if it were not for freedom, having a military would not be worth much. When you go to a child’s birthday party, you celebrate the child, not the parents who provide and protect, not the teacher who educates, not the policeman who guards. You celebrate the child. All are important, but on the child’s birthday, you celebrate the child.

On America’s birthday, let’s celebrate America, not the military that protects us.

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Fiction is Not as Strange as Fact

Way back, well before my time, American author Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel with the title, “It Can’t Happen Here.” It was 1935 to be precise. It’s not unusual for a novel to be colored by the current historical situation of the day when they are written, and that’s certainly true with Lewis’ book.

Hitler was coming to power in Germany and fascism was spreading around Europe. In the United States, a wild card from Louisiana named Huey Long was making preparations to run for president in the ’36 election. However, he was assassinated shortly before the novel was published.fact fiction

The story is about a character named Berzelius Windrip, more frequently referred to as Buzz. Windrip defeated FDR in the primary and was eventually elected as President. His campaign was based on creating fear and promising a return to patriotism and traditional American values. Does that last sentence sound familiar to you?

The similarities between a fictional President and our current President nearly 80 years later are eerie. Here’s a list of some of them:

  • Had a ghostwritten book that was a big seller and made him popular
  • Wife not involved in his campaign, stayed home to raise the kids
  • A strong supporter of veterans
  • The New York Times was anti-Windrip
  • Most religious periodicals wrote that he had been called of God
  • Strong emphasis on patriotism
  • Promises to return the country to greatness and prosperity

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Is It Fact or Fiction?

I confess. I got hooked on watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” the past two seasons. I’m not sure of the original attraction, especially since it’s a hard show to watch. I don’t mean the acting or production is terrible; what I mean is that the story is painful to accept. For some, it seems like the setting is too far-fetched to suggest the possibility, but it is possible to see strands of realism flowing throughout the setting and plot.

Margaret Atwood who wrote the story that inspired the TV show said that she had a rule in place as she wrote. She did not “include anything that human beings had not already done in some other place or time.” In other words, she wasn’t making this stuff up. She merely rearranged attitudes and events that already exist and bundled them together in a new story.

Perhaps that explains my fascination with the show. To be honest, as I watched, I kept seeing the fringes of fundamentalist Christianity. Listen to how Atwood described the Nation of Gilead which is the setting for the story:

The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes, the forced childbearing and the appropriation of the results, the children stolen by regimes and placed for upbringing with high-ranking officials, the forbidding of literacy, the denial of property rights—all had precedents, and many of these were to be found, not in other cultures and religions, but within Western society, and within the “Christian” tradition itself. (I enclose “Christian” in quotation marks, since I believe that much of the Church’s behavior and doctrine during its two-millennia-long existence as a social and political organization would have been abhorrent to the person after whom it is named.)Handmaid

            It’s almost as if the story is ripped from the headlines as they say. The underlying premise is that men seize control over women. Look at the current issues as they are dealt with in Gilead.

  • Abortion – In Gilead, men determine how and when a woman becomes pregnant. A woman does not even have access to birth control without a man’s approval.
  • Children – In Gilead, children are separated from their parents and given to those who are more deserving. After watching what our government did recently with immigrant children is it far-fetched to see something like this happening. The Attorney General even defended the practice by quoting Scripture.
  • Rape and Sexual Assault – The lot of a Handmaid is to be raped by the man of the house where she has been assigned. If she is fortunate to become pregnant, she is removed from the child once the baby is weaned. There was no “metoo” movement in Gilead.
  • Subjugation of Women – The nation of Gilead is divided into various castes, and in each class, the women are subservient to the men in that level. This is not unlike many fundamentalist Christian churches today. They allow the Pastor’s wife to be considered an “equal” with her husband, but she is not equal in the sense of function or authority. A favorite Scripture is that there is “neither male nor female” in Christ except when it comes to function within the church.
  • Streets are patrolled by heavily armed guards. Several times they shoot and kill those who step out of line. How often do we hear similar stories today – a man killed by police for being in the wrong place, being somewhere he should not have been.

All this is happening under the guise of God’s Word. When the commander was raping his handmaid (with his wife’s assistance I might add), he quoted Genesis 30, “When Rachel saw that she could not give Jacob children, she became jealous of her sister. She said to Jacob, Give me children or I’ll die!”

When one of the handmaids is being disciplined by holding her hand over a hot stove, an allusion is made to I Peter 5:10, “…but only in suffering will you find grace…”

At a marriage ceremony the words recorded in Genesis, “be fruitful and multiply” are cited as the primary focus of marriage.

As I watch the show, I can’t help but see a possible future for our “Christian” world. I also choose to use the word in quotes like Atwood because I see much of what is happening today under the banner of Christ as being abhorrent to Jesus.

The TV show has already gone past Atwood’s novel, which I’m also reading. For the sake of my own sanity, I hope the current writers choose to bring in a happy ending. However, I’m not sure how that can happen without a complete revolution taking place in Gilead. Perhaps there’s also a lesson for our nation about what has to happen before we can expect everything to be fine in the end.

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When the Church Chooses Country Over Christ

If the American church today had official colors, they would be red, white, and blue along with a sprinkling of stars. It is almost surprising that we don’t actually name it “The American Church,” rather than Baptist Church, or Methodist Church, or Presbyterian Church. It seems the church is more proud of its American heritage than with its denominational or historical heritage.

Several years ago I was scheduled to fill the pulpit for a pastor who was planning to be out of town on vacation. When I accepted the invitation, I simply checked my calendar to make sure I was available without noticing that it was Memorial Day Weekend. To be honest, as long as our family had no plans of being out of town on Sunday, it didn’t matter if it was a national holiday.

I prepared a sermon and showed up early, ready to preach.

Until the morning service began, I hadn’t given a thought to the fact it was Memorial Day. But the entire morning event was planned as an American celebration; patriotic songs, readings, and prayers. It was evident that I was the only one there that morning not prepared to pledge my allegiance to America.

I’m not denying that being an American citizen is a great thing. Like nearly every other American, there is no other place I’d rather live. However, that is not the reason the church gathers. America is not to be our object of worship on Sunday mornings (or any other morning for that matter).Freedom of Speech

To be honest, I’m often embarrassed by American Christians, and it is not because of sinful behavior, but by inconsistent beliefs. For example, there are many…

  • Christians who are more interested in permission to carry a gun than laying down their life for another.
  • Christians who are willing to support a politician whose lifestyle, words, and actions are incompatible with what Christ called us to be.
  • Christians who are willing to kill to protect their Second Amendment rights, but have no idea what the Second Commandment says.
  • Christians who insist on being tolerant, but then quickly scoff at conservatives and fundamentalists.
  • Christians who think they know all the answers because they have read the Bible.
  • Christians who believe the life of faith is all about believing and nothing about doing.
  • Christians who are hateful while claiming to hate the sin but love the sinner.

Many people in the history of this country have given up their life in the fight for freedom of speech. It is a freedom that should never be taken lightly because it is not available in many parts of the world. In fact, I feel safe in saying it is the most essential freedom for a free society. If I were a dictator of a country, it would be the first freedom I would remove. It is even more crucial than the right to bear arms. Many countries without gun control do not have freedom, but there are very few places where they have freedom of speech but still live under oppression.

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Conundrum

I posted this article five years ago. Unfortunately, it’s still relevant. 

It has been nearly a month since the terrible tragedy of the school shooting in Connecticut and the debate over gun control is still raging. That is a good thing because it is a discussion this country needs to have. However, like with many other issues in this country (abortion, gay marriage, federal deficit, taxes, et. al.), we have a difficult time with discussion. Most of us simply fortify our current beliefs and try to shout louder than those who believe differently.

One of the culprits in this inability to discuss issues is that we have lost the art of compromise. When two sides are unwilling to make any compromise then we are wasting our time trying to negotiate anything. When everything is either right or wrong, black or white, then we have no room to give, even an inch. Often, Christians are the worst. Since we believe that we hold the corner on all truth then anyone who disagrees with us must be wrong. If you have the “right” position on an issue, compromise would be foolish.

Now, before we dive into the issue of gun control, I need to state my own bias. I am not a gun fan. I do not own any guns. There is a handgun out there somewhere registered in my name but it was stolen years ago (a long story). I wouldn’t be surprised if someday the police knock on my door and say a gun registered to me was used in a crime (although I hope not). I witnessed a man accidentally shot by policeman’s handgun many years ago but it was only a minor injury. I have never fired a gun other than a BB gun. For several years I worked at a police department but I never got comfortable even though I was surrounded by guns.conundrum

Our family did not have any hunters. My father was not an outdoorsman. We never talked about guns and I have always suspected it was because of his war experiences. He saw enough killing to last a lifetime. But I have never been an advocate of banning guns completely. I understand the sporting use of guns for hunting and recreation. That is the sum total of my experience with guns.

When it comes to the debate about gun control, the most basic starting point of agreement is that all of us, unless you are an extreme radical, believe in gun control up to a certain point. In other words, if there was absolutely no gun control, we would have inner city gangs and redneck militias walking around with rocket launchers and other methods of mass killing. The question is not do we want to control guns but where do we draw the line.

Before choosing up sides on the issue, let me advance the notion that there are really two foundations that determine our decision making. It is a problem because United States Christians find themselves with a foot on both foundations. Let me try to explain.

As a citizen of this nation, it is important to protect our rights and fulfill our obligations. It is frequently and perpetually pointed out that the Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns. If the criterion for decision making is the necessity to protect constitutional rights, it is hard to argue for gun control. All the arguments citing self-defense, hunting, maintaining order, protection against tyranny, and others make a good point if you are a citizen of this country.

On the other hand, as a Christian, our source of authority for making decisions is not what is good for this country. We live as residents of another kingdom and we arrange our lives according to a different standard. Consequently, if we make a decision based solely on God’s Word, it is possible (and quite likely) we will come to a different conclusion than if our sole criterion is our United States citizenship.

I am somewhat disturbed that so many Christians are passionate in their stand against any type of gun control. My concern is that they make the same arguments made by non-believers – self-defense, citizen rights, constitutional provisions, etc. I have been a student of the Bible for many years and I have a difficult time finding much justification for being so adamant about owning a gun.

Jesus spoke of loving our enemies, forgiving those who wrong us, turning the other cheek, laying down our lives. Historically, His followers have been persecuted, even to the point of torture and death, without fighting back. I don’t like it and I will be honest, my human inclination is to fight back when confronted. Turning the other cheek and giving up my “rights” is not easy. I can understand the urge to fight to protect those we love. I get that!

But I can’t envision Jesus “packing heat.” I understand some will point to Jesus’ words in Luke 22:36 where He instructed His disciples to sell their coat and go purchase a sword if they did not have one. That would make a pretty strong statement if that is all He said. However, I don’t know of any reputable biblical scholar who would use this verse to advocate having an armed citizenry. (For a thorough discussion on this verse read here.) When one of His disciples actually used a sword in self-defense, Jesus told him to put it away with the warning that those who use a sword will die by a sword.

Without going into a protracted theological discussion and biblical exposition, I will simply say that I can’t find any justification for followers of Jesus having weapons with the purpose of harming others. I am not talking about guns that are used for hunting or even for sport, but to carry weapons around in our vehicles or strapped to our belts just in case we need to shoot someone (or even scare them off), does not seem like a justifiable position for a servant of Jesus. (For a good discussion about Christians and self-defense read here.) Personally, I have no problem with military or police who are armed, even if they are Christians. They are acting as agents of the state, which has been given permission by God to avenge evil (see Romans 13).

So, here is the conundrum faced by believers who are also citizens of the United States. Is our source of authority going to be the U.S. Constitution or the Word of God? In most instances, they are not at odds with one another, and we should rejoice when we can live consistently with both. However, when they are, we must make our decision carefully. When we chose to follow Christ, it was a choice that superseded any other authority in our lives. It was a choice to give up our rights and claims and to follow Him only.

My non-Christian neighbor may have the right to arm himself in self-defense. However, do I have that same right to keep a weapon around the house for the sole purpose of killing another person if necessary to protect my family and my stuff? Does my choice to follow Jesus override my freedom to be armed?

I don’t know how to guarantee that another school shooting will never occur again and I am pretty confident no one else does either. I hope the discussion of the issue continues and I pray our politicians will find the wisdom to make good choices along with the courage to make difficult decisions. I also hope that as followers of Jesus we can make a clear statement that His way is often much different from the ways of the world.

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