Serving in the military comes with the potential of being deployed to the front lines of battle where you can expect to come face-to-face with the enemy. For this reason, the military invests billions of dollars every year into training, equipment and technology designed to adequately equip and prepare personnel for the task of executing military action whenever it becomes necessary. Military leaders recognize the need to prepare for when military force is necessary, not if it will be necessary. Equipping and training happens before engagement with the enemy, not after the first strike.Continue reading “Equipping the Front Lines”
How do you define marriage? In a world surrounded by so many different voices telling you what to believe, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that question generated fifty different answers, even among Christians. Is it just two people living together and having children or does it involve something more profound? Let’s be honest, even if you did have a good answer to that question, is that how you are living out your own marriage anyway?Continue reading “Marriage is Not a Sidecar”
Read the newspaper, turn on the news, open the news app on your phone or scroll through your Twitter feed and you will find a world capable of filling us with anxiety, worry and uncertainty. From church shootings to tax code changes to military tensions with North Korea, we are reminded daily of what life is like in a post-Genesis 3 world where everything is tainted by sin. In that kind of a world, we can be absolutely certain there will be uncertainty. This is why we have news alerts on our phone and 24-hour news networks, to inform us of all the uncertainties that occurred in our country and around the world throughout the day. Likewise, our individual lives are filled with a list of uncertainties that we take with us to bed and are guaranteed to stare us in the face when we wake up in the morning.Continue reading “Certainty in Uncertain Times”
One of the most common phrases heard in our modern culture is “going through the motions.” We are either tired of, feeling like or warned against “going through the motions;” either at work, school, church, ministry, in our marriages, in our Christian walk or just life in general. There is hardly a need to explain the definition of this phrase, since we have all experienced the frustration of becoming stuck in a repetitive routine of lather, rinse, repeat. It happens anytime we allow certain parts of our life to function without much thought, in the same way pilots use autopilot. Almost always this phrase refers to a negative reality, but we can also grow through what can sometimes be perceived as merely “going through the motions” of the Christian life.Continue reading “Growing Through the Motions”
Vice President Mike Pence has recently received excessive criticism over what has crudely become known as the “rule.” Something which should be considered encouraging, refreshing and humbling has been completely twisted and relabeled as disheartening, sexists and prideful. Once again the feminist movement is proving to us why they can never be trusted to accurately convey facts and confirming their inability to support anything which goes against their insatiable hunger to destroy any remnant of moral fabric which still exists in American culture.Continue reading “Thanks to Feminist, Convictions are Dead”
Human beings by nature are competitive individuals. It was the competitive nature within the heart of Cain which motivated him to murder his brother Abel (Genesis 4). However, it was not the result of God rejecting his offering that led to murder, but rather it was the contempt Cain had for his brother upon realizing that Abel found God’s favor and he had not. Nothing exhibits the competitive spirit in human beings more so in modern day American than in the public sports arena. Anyone with even a vague familiarity of sports would expect athletes to be ruled by an attitude of tough competition, but sadly in our modern day, the competition among sports fans often far exceeds the competitiveness of even the players. It is the fans who invest so much in the team through the purchase of season tickets, hats, jerseys and endless other apparel items. It is the fans, not the athletes who defend their favored team at work, participate in fantasy football and brag about the abilities of players; this is where the real competition exists. While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, sports players are the ones who generally demonstrate a respectable degree of sportsmanship towards each other. It is not typically the players who become unruly with each other or demonstrate contempt for one another, it is the fans. Interestingly, the ones who have the most contempt are the ones who have the least to lose.
This election has no doubt generated high levels of tension, competitiveness and even contempt for one another, and it is for this reason we must be very careful in the weeks ahead. Just as in sports, we selected a team, perhaps made donations and even offered proof of our loyalty by purchasing the team’s hats, shirts, bumper stickers, pins and other memorabilia; all with the hope of defining ourselves as a winner on November 9th. But politics is not sports, yet one would hardly notice the distinction in modern day America. A visitor to our country could easily be led to the conclusion that Trump and Clinton were merely the names of two sports teams on their way to a national championship game.
This may point to the unfortunate fact that in many ways we have abandoned a proper perspective behind the purpose of a presidential election and replaced it with a shallow desire to either find ourselves on the winning team or be proven accurate in our prediction of the outcome. Is the emphasis behind our endorsement of any particular candidate based on our personal convictions regarding the issues at stake or merely from a desire to experience the excitement so often felt by sports fans leading up to the big championship game? Perhaps it is our sense that the latter is true, which has caused so many to seriously consider withholding their voting privilege on November 8th.
Our sports saturated culture understands the pride associated with being fans of the winning team, but both winners and losers can so quickly be led down a path which leads to contempt for the other side, especially when the stakes are so high. Is it any wonder that one of the more popular bumperstickers after the 2008 presidential election read “we won, get over it.” Perhaps that is the reason this presidential election has created so many divisions and even contempt for our fellow countrymen. Our competitiveness has been driven by the belief that, unlike sports, if our candidate is not elected the entire country and future generations will lose. There may be some validity to this statement, but even though the President of the United States is recognized as one of the most powerful positions in the world, to consider it the primary position of significance in our government is to misunderstand the constitution which forms our nation. While the President does retain a significant amount of authority, that individual is only capable of extending power to the point where the authority of Congress and the Supreme Court begins. This distribution of power across three branches of government was wisely considered by our founders to be the best method of preventing one individual to retain all authority, as in the monarchical system which formerly ruled the original thirteen colonies.
For this reason alone, we can avoid a doomsday view of this election, but for the Christian there is an even greater reason. Isaiah 14:24, 26 tells us, “The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand…” (v26) “…this is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations.” (ESV). It is for this reason we can accurately conclude the elected winner will be one installed by the divine decree of God to fulfill His good and perfect purpose. However, this should not be viewed as a justification to relegate our voting privilege. God has placed us in a county where such a freedom should be viewed as part of God’s grace and our responsibility as citizens of a country who should “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7). Yet, despite the outcome, it is also our responsibility to submit to the government who ultimately serves a divine purpose (Romans 13:1-7).
Attempts to find hope in an earthly system of government is false hope and hardly the basis for the inevitable contempt which is likely to ensue as a result of this election. As Christians we already belong to a winning team, where victory is only found in salvation from the penalty of sin through Christ and the expected future return of our Lord. It is for this reason we should always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV). Without this perspective at the forefront of our minds, we are in danger of conveying the message that our hope is found not in Christ, but in a Presidential candidate. Nor should we have any reason to share in any demonstration of contempt for those who are also made in the image of God. The grace from God bestowed upon all who belong to Christ never results in contempt, only sadness in knowing there are many who are in danger of missing out on the grace of God for all of eternity. This election is not the time for Christians to spurn contempt for their fellow citizens or fellow heirs in Christ, but rather it is an opportunity to highlight the flaws of a fallen world which awaits the coming restoration of all things (Romans 8:22, Acts 3:21) and to demonstrate our willful submission to God’s divinely ordained plan.
What does it say that we have now shifted from merely guiding Christians to examine specific positions of a candidate according to a biblical worldview, to now telling them which candidate they should or should not vote for in the Presidential election? Even if you were to agree that such a practice is justified, why did Christian leaders wait until Ted Cruz departed the race before suddenly making it known that he was apparently the evangelical Christian candidate? Is choosing not to vote or voting for a third party candidate a more biblical decision? For those encouraging a third party candidate, how are we to believe that this unknown candidate would hold to a biblical worldview or even be guaranteed a victory?
The impacts of the Obamacare bill, which will especially be realized this year, will continue to contribute to the decline of the U.S. economy under a Clinton administration because only Trump has offered to repeal this bill. Even if you do not believe all of Trump’s economic plans align with conservative principles, it cannot be argued that they are much closer than Hillary’s socialist, Keynesian position. Do we not as Christians believe that a strong, economy which enables human flourishing is beneficial for mankind? Which candidate is more likely to support policies which enable the economy to return to it’s former luster?
Trump is determined to improve the condition of U.S. veterans who have given so much to our country, while Hillary has proven she could care less about the military let alone the veterans who have served. Although many people may not consider the vast, world-wide influence of the U.S. military, it represents the most powerful military force in the history of the world. As someone who has worked at the senior level of the Department of Defense throughout the Obama administration, the military is unable to survive another administration which has eroded the very principles which have allowed it to sustain such a globally recognized position.
The next President of the United States will likely have the opportunity to select new Federal judges to include several who will sit on the Supreme Court and have vast influence on our nation for the next few decades. Even if you do not agree that Trump would make a good decision, is it possible that his decisions might prove to be a better alternative to Hillary?
This is not an endorsement of Trump over any other GOP candidate, that ship has sailed. Rather, it is an endorsement of some semblance of conservatism against the guarantee of socialism. It is an endorsement of some religious liberty over no religious liberty; or should we say no Christian liberty since Hillary certainly supports liberty for other religions. If the argument is that Trump does not support religious liberty to the same degree as other candidates such as Cruz or Rubio, then perhaps we should make it clear that Trump is also not out to intentionally destroy it like Hillary. Even if we agree that Trump’s policies may lead to a decline in religious liberty, which is certainly open for debate, he has not made it a mission to force conformance to the homosexual agenda like Obama has done and Clinton will inevitable continue.
As already stated, there is no hope for a third party candidate victory, so if your decision is to either vote for an unknown candidate or not vote at all, then understand you are voting for Hillary Clinton to become the next President of the United States and we can say goodbye to any religious freedom we may have left. It may be difficult to vote for Trump in good conscience, but how will your conscience feel when you watch religious liberty deliberately be dismantled by Hillary, knowing you could have prevented it?
Last week marked the twelve year anniversary of the opening of the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring the more than 16 million men and women who served during the war. When I walk the halls of the Pentagon each day there are memorials which surround me to honor not only men, but women who have honorably served to defend our nation. In the center of Arlington National Cemetery there is an entire memorial dedicated to the women of our Armed Services. There can be no doubt that over the past century women have shared in the rich heritage of military service. Yet, the one element which has always distinguished these women from other woman, has been their freedom to exercise a choice in deciding to serve our country in this capacity. Since 1917, when women were first allowed to join the U.S. Armed Services, this opportunity has always been a decision not made under compulsion, but under free will.
Yet, all of this could change within the next month if a bill which recently passed the House Armed Services Committee is approved by Congress and signed into law by the President. Just as all male U.S. citizens are required on their 18th birthday to register for Selective Service, this bill would mandate all women to also register; making them legally bound to participate in the draft process in the event it was ever required. It invokes the inevitable question regarding whether women should be required to register for the draft and if so why have they never been forced to do so in the past. Before answering that question, consider for a moment the intent of the draft and the conditions under which it would likely be instituted. It is essentially the forced supplementing of a shortfall in military personnel, typically combat troops, who will be required to serve on the front lines of a battlefield. Although it could be rightly argued that warfare has changed since the draft was executed in WWII and the Vietnam War, the fundamental purpose is to fill a gap in combat operations.
So as we consider this issue it must be understood that fundamentally, an extension of the draft to include women, is the endorsement of forcibly committing young women to the front lines of a combat area. Put another way, it is also the belief that not only men, but women have a duty to protect the homeland of America. That is not an argument about whether a woman is physically capable of defending our nation, but rather a question of obligation. In the event of a draft, there is little distinction made between the strong and the weak, the small and the large, because every man in this country is viewed as having an obligation to fight and if need be die, for the protection of this country. Is this an obligation which should be shared with the women living in this country?
While there is certainly a legitimate argument that our military consists of jobs with non-combative roles, the fundamental justification for this law is to demonstrate equality across genders in America. So in the event of a draft, how could it be argued that women would only be given non-combative roles, while the men are being sent to fight and die on the front lines. Who would conduct the selection process to determine who serves in combat and who does not. If the basis for this requirement is gender equality, then the integrity of the program mandates an equal dispersion of genders.
The Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, recently opened all combat careers to any gender, but this the issue of the draft is a much different debate then permitting women to apply for service in combat roles. Instead, the more urgent issue is whether women should be mandated to serve on the front lines. Consider for a moment the practical impacts of enforcing such a law on the young women of America. The preponderance of single parents in this country are mothers, although we certainly should not discredit single fathers who share similar circumstances. Can we envision a young, single mother being forced to leave her children out of a duty to fight for her country or would we argue that there are enough men to take her place. Imagine a mother and a father both being drafted at the same time; required to leave behind a family for someone else to care for. Even if there are exceptions, who decides which one stays and which one leaves? If the father volunteers what is to prevent the draft board from selecting his wife instead under the banner of equality. Could a husband imagine sending his wife off to war while remaining at home with the children?
What does it say about a culture that we are adamantly supportive about providing women adequate time to care for their children through maternity leave, nursing areas in the workplace and flexible work schedules, but are unwilling to admit that there just might be some fundamental differences between the roles of men and women. Isn’t it interesting that many child custody cases in divorce court decide to award primary custody to the mother on the basis of studies which identify maternal care as a key element in the development of a child. While the death of any parent in a family with young children is heartbreaking, there is something about the death of a mother who leaves behind young children which grips and moves us in a way which cannot easily be understood. There is a reason for the metaphor, “just as a mother cares for her child” because the imagery epitomizes our understanding of love, nurture and care. Is this really just antiquated imagery from a bygone culture dominated by male chauvinism or is it perhaps rooted in a human nature designed by God and not meant to be suppressed? If it was not the result of God’s design then why would Peter write, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life” (1 Pt 3:7).
As Christians we need to think carefully about what the Scripture teaches about the role of women and ask ourselves some serious questions about this topic while we still have the opportunity to influence the decision. Would you send your wife to war? How about your daughters? Or try this one, would you send your mother to war; to fight and to die? Don’t be so quick to correlate permitting a woman’s freedom to serve in a combat job and forcing them into one. In the event of a draft, women will still have the freedom to join the military if they so desire. The draft is ultimately about freedom, but only in this way; through the suspension of an individual’s freedom in order to fulfill the duty to protect America’s freedom. This decision isn’t about granting women’s rights, it is about taking away a woman’s right to have her freedom’s protected.
The Thanksgiving holiday is once again upon us and as one pastor I know put it, time for food, football and flop. Once again we will watch the Macy’s Parade and likely see more commercials of stuff to buy on Black Friday then the actual parade. Yet in the center of all this, most of us will at some point take the time to consider everything we are thankful for. For some this may be easy, but for others it may be a struggle depending on their current situation. Regardless of the situation, even the most difficult circumstances can allow for a heart of thankfulness if considered within the right context.
In fact, the story which most consider to be the historical origin of Thanksgiving is a story of great difficulty for a group of people who experienced starvation, disease, death and hostility. It is a story of families devastated by the death of a spouses, children and friends where most likely the graveyard contained more tombstones than people living in the settlement. Practically speaking the settlement was an absolute failure and their efforts were hardly worthy of thanksgiving. Yet, in spite of these tragedies, they were filled with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness not because of anything they have done. It was a thanksgiving which identified God as the provider of all good things, most importantly the grace of God received through Christ. For them a heart of thanksgiving was not a one-time event which occurred once a year, but a continual state which likely helped them endure throughout their difficulties.
So to who are you directing your thanks towards this Thanksgiving holiday? It may seem like a simple answer, but consider the inconsistency in expressing thankfulness and gratitude without the recognition of a recipient. When most people receive a gift, they express gratitude towards the giver, but how often does someone mention gratitude for something without any recognition of the recipient. Who exactly are you giving thanks to? Without a recipient, it is merely a meaningless catch phase used to describe good things which you are glad to have.
If you are thankful for your job, your home, your family, your friends or even your life, to whom are you expressing this gratitude? For the Christian there can be no other answer except God, but for many other people the most honest answer is probably themselves. Thankful for a job they worked to obtain, a house they purchased, a family they built and the good health they sacrificed to attain. They have become the ultimate source of their own good circumstances; I’m thankful to me for me.
So this week as we visit with family and friends let us remember to verbally remind people of the recipient of our thanksgiving. Avoid the overused phrase, “I’m thankful for” without saying to whom you are giving the thanks. This may be the most powerful evangelism tool you possess this week as you interact with those who may not believe the gospel. When someone speaks of their thankfulness, don’t be afraid to ask the question “who are you thanking?” You may be surprised with the answer you receive.
At the same time let us also not forget that our response to God’s goodness comes not only in words, but action. Living a life of obedience to God demonstrates our gratitude and thanksgiving to Him more than any words. Be assured that at the same time people listen to us offer thanks to God, they are also watching us to see just how much we really believe everything we say.
It is hard to imagine we have reached a point where something as insignificant as a disposable coffee cup could generate such controversy among evangelical Christians. When Starbucks recently decided to remove pictures of Christmas trees, reindeer and snowflakes from their 2015 “holiday” cups it trigged a national outcry by Christians across social media sites that went viral in just a short period of time. Why so much attention given to a cup, a disposable cup? It was the result of one self-proclaimed evangelist, on a YouTube video, who said that all Christians should be offended by what he perceived as an “attack” by Starbucks against Christianity and Christmas. There is a sad incongruity in recognizing that here we have a man who identifies himself as an evangelist, but yet considers the removal of winter themes from a disposable cup as the most important message the world needs to hear. A message apparently so profound that it has collected over 12 million views.
If Christians truly perceive the removal of these drawings on a cup as representing an attack against Christmas, it is highly likely they have completely missed the reason for the Christmas celebration. It is difficult to recall any account of Christmas trees, reindeer or snowflakes in the biblical narrative known as the Christmas story; probably because they simply are not there. This points to the fact that Starbucks does not, nor has it ever, claimed to make the birth of Christ their central theme of the Christmas season. It is not as if Starbucks had previously designed their cups with pictures of angels, stars, manger scenes and shepherds.
When we fix our eyes on trivial issues it distracts us from the significant issues which are glaring us in the face every day. We are bold about posting a video to Facebook of a man declaring how offended we should be about a cup, but we shy away from sharing the gospel with our family, neighbors and co-workers who desperately need the hope that Christmas brings. So eager are we to shout our outrage at a company which has never claimed to be a theological institution, but we never speak a word to the impoverished person on the street corner who has lost all hope in anything. What message do we as Christians want to convey this Christmas season; the message that we are deeply sensitive to the scribbling on a disposable cup or our overwhelming joy in the message of hope and salvation that the Christmas season brings every year?
Instead of being offended by the removal of Christmas trees and reindeer, let’s consider the significance of a red cup. A red cup which points us to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ that we celebrate each time we partake in Communion. The cup Christ was born to drink so that His blood might enable the forgiveness of sins to those who believe upon Him. You may be offended by the Starbucks red cup, but it seems to be the most fitting color to represent the true meaning of Christmas than any cup design previously created by Starbucks.
With the Presidential elections just over a year away, the political landscape will soon be dominated by debates, speeches, interviews and campaign advertisements. The first of many debates occurred last night and offered much to be desired when one considers the meaning of the word debate. At best it was an exhibition of talking points and buzz word. While there is a sense of disappointment in the moderators for not creating an environment which afforded the candidates an opportunity to engage in necessary, in-depth deliberations, nonetheless it is not an event which should be completely undervalued or dismissed; especially given the extensive number of candidates now bidding for the Republican ticket. There are several noteworthy points which we should take away from this first debate.
In terms of what the debate provided us, it is probably best to identify it as merely a preview of the contending candidates which confirmed what most people likely already knew about each opponent. It provided what one might expect from a forum where candidates were limited to a one minute response. Yet, despite the limited response time we can often learn a great deal about someone when they are required to respond to potentially difficult, comprehensive questions within the constraints of short period of time. There is significance in observing the reactions of the candidates, each of whom are contending for a position which routinely encounters situations requiring immediate, decisive responses, sometimes leading to expansive ramifications for the country. This debate may not have provided us with a better understanding of how these candidates intend to fulfill their campaign commitments, but it did provide the viewer with a big picture overview of their overall demeanor and posture in a high-stakes environment.
While last night did not necessarily produce any winners or losers, it did reveal those who are able to articulate their convictions about a particular topic outside of the standard Republican Party talking points and phrases. In a party specific debate, the goal of a candidate should not be to articulate their similarities to the other candidates, but rather the distinctive marks which separate their approach to the topics. Those who were able to progress the conversation beyond the one liner phrases and buzz words which already define the Republican Party presented themselves as ones who will be worthwhile to watch in future debates, especially when provided ample time to articulate the issues in greater detail.
When we consider the overall structure of this debate itself, it is interesting to note the rationale behind the decision of Fox News to limit the debate to a two hour time block with only a one minute response time per candidate. Yet, what must be understood is that like every other cable news network, Fox News is competing for viewers, which requires a programing structure capable of accomplishing this goal. Therefore, we can only assume that the producers considered these time limits to be the breaking point for a large majority of their targeted audience. Yet, this does not represent a critique of the news networks so much as it does on the American culture and the ever shrinking attention span of Americans when it comes to significant matters such as the political scene. For many Americans the idea of watching a two hour discussion, even about issues which affect them daily, seems overly daunting especially on a Thursday evening during prime time television. It is inconceivable that anyone would think twice about watching a three hour football game, a two hour movie or an all-day marathon of Downton Abbey, but somehow spending two hours listening to a debate between people, a group from which many will one day select their next leader, seems uninteresting. The limitation of one minute responses could be associated with the goal of the moderators to cover a wide range of topics with the seventeen candidates within the short two hour window of time, but it could also be the result of a culture which seems disinterested in topics which cannot be reduced to a 144 character Twitter feed.
The Christian worldview understands that each person will one day give an account for how we spend our time, our resources and even how we voted in an election. We realize in voting for candidates that there will never be the perfect candidate, nor do we expect that the best candidate will be an individual who holds completely to our own worldview, but what is important is that we make the best choice based on our knowledge of the individual. A decision which comes not based on what anyone or any group would have us to believe is the best candidate, but rather one which is based on our own evaluation and assessment of the facts. To do this means that we must spend time to understand these issues which will be at the forefront of the campaigns and make an informed decision to vote for the person most capable of leading America in the right direction.