10 Things you can do to Heal this Nation

broken-flag-2Recently I spoke to a family counselor who told me they are counseling people over the fear and anxiety produced by this election cycle. We are all dealing with some profound questions. How did we get to this point in our nation’s political process? Does my vote even matter?   What will happen to our country if ____________ gets elected? Perhaps the greatest question we are facing is; Is there anything I can do to help this nation? There is! Let me encourage you today that a nation is not great because they have the right president its greatness is always determined by righteous people.

So here are 10 things I suggest we can all do to heal this nation.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY PERSONALLY. We all need to realize the answer begins with us. I must first do what I desire others to do, be what I want others to be and live out the principles I desire to see in our world. I cannot expect others to do what I myself do not embrace.

UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM SPIRITUALLY. We live in a world where the spiritual battles are played out in the physical realm. As a Christian I understand that there is a force of evil that longs to kill, steal and destroy my life, my family and our nation. The scripture says we “wrestle not against flesh and blood”.   Failing to realize that there is a spiritual battle going on in the unseen world further distances me from a solution.

LIVE MORALLY. If I want a president, a governor or a neighbor that is moral I need to first model morality. Sadly in our nation we act appalled at the political scandals that recently have played out and yet pornography is a lucrative internet profit-maker. We feign outrage over a candidate that falls below a moral standard and yet buy 125 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey. We’re hypocrites if we have erotic material on our computers, phones and bookshelves and expect that our leaders will be different. Leaders reflect morality more than they direct it.

PRIORITIZE FAMILY. God has created society so that the strength of the family unit determines the strength of a nation. Today I can change this country by being loving and faithful to my wife, loving and modeling holiness to my children and taking full responsibility for their welfare.

PRAY EARNESTLY. In scripture we are told that God gets involved in the affairs of men in two ways. First, by raising up and taking down rulers and secondly, in answer to the prayers of his people. If God is involved in governments and He answers our prayers, now is the time to pray! Prayer does not change things, God changes things and prayer puts us in touch with the one who has the supernatural power to alter our national circumstance.

LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY We need a baptism of divine love in our world. Love is like a flame that melts the hardest steel. Not an explosion but a steady force of melting heat that softens even the coldest heart. I need to realize that I must love everyone regardless of whether they agree or disagree with me. Never let the sign in someone’s yard determine your treatment of them!

WORK DILIGENTLY In our effort to improve our world let us not “grow weary in well doing” (Gal 6). As a pastor I must love, serve, pray and shepherd my people faithfully. If you are involved in the political process work hard till election day.   Whatever your assignment is, make sure it is noble then don’t give up, don’t lose heart and don’t quit.

DISAGREE GRACIOUSLY. When you merge an election cycle with social media we bring out the very worst in all of us. “Let your conversation be seasoned with grace” Col. 4:6

THINK BIBLICALLY. Our nation was founded on a Judeo Christian value system.  If every person would once again embrace a world-view framed by scripture our life would improve, your family would be healthier and our nation would once again prosper.

VOTE CONSERVATIVELY. Either voting matters or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t matter who you vote for then vote because you CAN, It is a right that you should exercise. If voting makes even the slightest difference then vote because you SHOULD. We all agree there are no perfect options in this race. But the reality is that one of these candidates will take several thousand people to DC with them to run the government. These people will either be people with a conservative or liberal ideology. Voting on the issues of religious freedom, protection of the unborn, conservative economic policy and conserving our founding principles will make this country better, so vote conservatively.

As we debate about the issues remember that 3 weeks from now this will all be over,  you are going to still need friends and the world will still need Jesus! Embrace these principles and go change the world!

 

 

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The lost art of civility

screaming-1368564297America has for centuries been a shining beacon of democracy for the world. The people of the world want to live here, vacation here and have their medical procedures done here. Our elections have been a model for the world’s governments who too often cannot transfer power without the shedding of blood. With the risk of sounding boastful, our model of freedom, based upon individual rights and responsibility, has made us the greatest nation in the world.

Dr. Oz Guinness shared recently that America has been unique because of our “Civil Public Square”. In the ancient world there was an actual “public square” where people would gather and discuss issues of the day. In more recent centuries that public square was figurative as books, newspapers, magazines and more recently radio and television have been the place of discourse. Today our “Public square” is “virtual.”  With the internet and devices, everyone is everywhere speaking to all people at once.

Dr. Guinness described the three types of public squares in the world, The Sacred public square where government and the church are one. You are only free to embrace the ideas of the prescribed religion. Detractors are punished. Iran, Saudia Arabia are modern examples. The Naked public square where there is absolutely no religion allowed at all. Communism has illustrated this well over the 20th century. In this square all religion is banned and the faithful are persecuted.

America has had a third type of public square that he called the Civil Public Square. This is based upon the first amendment which ensures the freedom for all people to assemble, to speak, to choose and the added freedom of conscience. All views are welcome and respected with civility. One is free to meet with whomever they choose, say whatever they desire , choose to do or not do based on preference and free to do or not do because of deeply held conscientious convictions.

The nature of the civil public square is illustrated with a boxing metaphor. In ancient boxing the boxers had no boundaries and fought until their opponent was dead. They literally boxed all over the courtyard or town. Later an Englishman “civilized” boxing with a ring, rounds of certain length and the respect of one boxer to another that began the match with them touching gloves. An official watched over the match, a winner was declared and everyone went home… alive! Our democracy has been much like that. We have vigorous debate, play by the rules, respect our opponent and then respect the outcome. That is what makes us civil and different from most of the world.

Sadly, civility is disappearing! Just look on your social media feed. This election cycle has brought out the worst in all of us and our respect and tolerance of other opinions can no longer be discussed without vitriol and sometimes hatred itself.  We are systematically removing the boundaries around the “ring” again and “boxing” without rules with the aim of killing our opponents.

Today not all views are respected.   Religious freedom is being pushed out of the public square. We are moving more and more to the “Naked” public square where religion is demonized and labeled as discrimination. Freedom of conscience is no longer regarded and other freedoms will soon be gone as well.

My friend Dr. John Neihoff recently wrote; A free and democratic republic is based upon a freedom of speech which allows a healthy, lively, and civil conversation about a nation, its values, its direction, and its beliefs. When discourse dies, the chains of enslavement clank in the shadows. For when discourse dies, dissent dies with her.

Ideas die with her. Integrity dies with her. Honest quest for truth dies with her. Freedom dies with her!

 So as we enter the final weeks of this election cycle here are three things to remember.

  • In America we win by persuasion not coercion.

If we cannot win out of sound arguments, good logic and rigorous debate we cannot win. Coercion is for the despot not the free.

  • Guard what you say on social media.

Virtual communication is detached from emotional accountability and often is misunderstood. In other words we often will say something on social media that we would never say to someone’s face. This kills civility!

  • Finally as Christians remember we are followers Jesus.

As disciples our behavior should reflect his. Our treatment of others should be modeled after his treatment of others. Our goal is the glory of God not the promotion of a political agenda and our hope is not found in a donkey or an elephant but is found in the Lamb of God!

 


Jesus For President?

13876112_1275860749114813_3324922387622109000_nThis Fall we are launching a Wednesday night Bible Study at our church entitled “Jesus for President”.  Our staff even produced a really eye-catching billboard to promote this concept. Many have asked, “what does this mean?” Here is an article that will publish this week in our local paper to explain.

The Democratic and Republican National conventions have recently concluded and they have both put forth the problems and their solutions for our country. Regardless of your political persuasion we must all agree the problems we face as a nation are bigger than any one candidate or political party can solve. Although I strongly believe in Christians being engaged in our political process I do not believe that the full answer for the problems we are currently encountering in our nation lie in politics. Let me encourage you to pray for our nation, our leaders, our candidates and vote based on who will do the most God-defined good for this nation. There are no perfect candidates, there are no perfect parties and the best they both will do is short of the need that we have in this country.

So what is this “Jesus for President”? The Direct answer is, it is a BIBLE STUDY that we will be doing on Wednesday nights at 6:30 PM beginning August 31 and running to November 16. During this time we will be taking the Top Ten Political issues of this year’s campaign and simply asking “what does the Bible say about this issue and what does Jesus want me to do to fix it?” It will be a Bible Study on issues such as Immigration, Economics, National Security, Social Issues and more. We believe the Bible is true and speaks relevantly to these issues today.

Believe it or not this article is not a back-handed solicitation for the community to come to EastLake. Although you are certainly welcome, on a typical Wednesday night we already are full and overflowing. What this is, is a challenge for every one of us who believes in God to look to the Word of God for answers and then to live out those solutions every day.

As you well know, Jesus is not actually on the United States for President ballot this Fall. (Oh How I wish he were) But what we may have forgotten is that he is on the ballot in a more consequential election every single day. He is on the ballot of our hearts, our minds and our behaviors. I believe that if more of us would choose to follow and obey his plan for our lives this country would be so much better off. The words of Jesus heard and obeyed in the lives of a million citizens will do more good in one day than a single candidate who spends a billion dollars to get elected can do in 4 years.

The beautiful thing about Jesus he not only gives us the path to walk but through his grace he gives us the supernatural ability to walk in obedience to his commands. What we need in this nation is not an external cure but an internal healing of every heart that is full of self-centeredness, lust, deceit, anger, hatred, rage and wickedness. This only Jesus can do. There are not enough laws or law enforcers for a nation whose people’s hearts are turned against what is right and true. We need God to do what he promised he would do in Ezekial 36“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes.”

Elections matter and do have consequences. I will be active and vote, but as we enter into the final leg of this presidential campaign, as we make phone calls, put up yard signs and knock on doors may we never expect a bombastic billionaire nor a perennial power-hungry politician to solve this nations greatest problem, Only Jesus can do that!


Apologies, Acknowledgments and Answers

635863500410521737509662757_police_officersUPDATED 7/8/16 8:00 AM

(This post was originally posted just moments before the news broke in Dallas last night. I have edited the first paragraph to include this shooting as well)

This week I saw the news report about an African American man who was shot and killed  by a Minnesota Police Officer. This followed a similar shooting in Louisiana the night before.  Now we have a retaliation on Police in Dallas where several police officer have been shot and killed by those acting out of vengeance.

First, the apology.  In the instant that I heard the news from Minnesota and the seconds that followed I made a judgment that “another law-breaker was probably running from the police and was shot only after attempting to pull a gun on the officer.” My original feelings were cavalier.  My thoughts were undoubtedly driven by my love for law enforcement.  I believe we should have laws and that people should obey them.  I believe law-breakers should be punished.  I believe that law enforcement officers have a very difficult job and are both underpaid and under appreciated.  But I watched the video.  Although it doesn’t show what happened leading up to the shooting it appears evident that this man was shot and killed in front of his 4 year old daughter and his fiancé without merit.  I am so sorry about that.

I am sorry that I made a snap judgment when I didn’t know the facts.  That is wrong.  I am sorry that I am thankful to be white every time I get pulled over by the police.  That is wrong.  I am sorry that this man died in front of his family in such a brutal way.  Any way you cut it, That is wrong.   I am sorry that no one offered him medical help while he passed away right in front of an officer.  That is just plain wrong!  I am sorry that so many white conservatives, like me, have such a coarse view of this.  As a pastor, I am sorry that I didn’t instantly weep for his eternal soul.

Secondly, the acknowledgement.  Something is broken.  If you are a black man your chances of having a negative experience with the police are much higher!   Let’s face it, if the man in the car would have been wearing a white dress shirt and tie do you really think he would have been shot so quick?  The answer is NO. We have a problem and we must acknowledge it.  Why? I don’t know but that is a problem.  Actually there are lots of problems.  We have a problem in the minority community with broken families and absent fathers.  Most shootings in the African American community are not from Police Officers  they are  from other minority males.  Does this contribute to the original reason for this post?  I don’t know but we can never fix a problem until we admit we have one.  And we have problems on both sides.

Finally, Answers.  I wish I had an easy one.  But it is impossible to even attempt an answer r9vlzWLs_400x400without falling into one of the two extremes in these discussions.  Either we are pro-police or pro-thug.  If you question the actions of the law enforcement officers you are viewed as pro-crime.  If you challenge the moral deficiency in the inner-city, African American community you are a racist and don’t understand the plight of the oppressed.  Is it possible to embrace traditional values, love the rule of law and defend a black man who was shot during a traffic stop?  It should be, but it is difficult.

We have proven the answers are not within us.  When we lean on ourselves we divide, fight and drive both sides further into our own biased holes.  Each night we gather our best pundits and have them scream it out on TV News shows.  This is no answer, actually it is part of the problem.  There is no political answer.  Noble ambition that we will all wake up and come to our senses is futile. A problem this big needs supernatural help.

We need Jesus!  We need to fall on our face and repent of our arrogance, we need to cry out for mercy for our lack of concern for the dying.  We need to beg God for forgiveness for our lack of respect for authority, our bitterness and rebellion.  We need to earnestly seek divine intervention for our broken families and culture. This would open us to His grace that when extended melts heart, changes minds, restores lives and makes friends out of enemies. Without this kind of transformation we can only expect another protest, more name-calling, even greater polarization around faulty premises and most of all more senseless deaths.  God help us… God help me!

 

 

 


The Danger of Freedom

This past weekend we celebrated our 240th year of independence as a nation. America has been a shining light to the world for more than 2 centuries as we have pursued the experience of freedom. Although we haven’t always got it right we have steadily moved forward towards “liberty and justice for all”.

As we celebrate our freedom let me pose these questions. Is freedom without limits? If freedom has limits who gets to set them? If freedom has limits is that really freedom at all?

If you Google “freedom” we find the following…”the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”  In this definition freedom is without “restraint”.   Everyone doing anything and everything they desire. This is defined as freedom. One blogger recently wrote, To me, freedom is not only being free, but feeling free; to do, to say, to be, to literally (anything) – whatsoever and however, wherever and whenever. Because I am myself, and only I own me.

As I have pondered that thought I began to question if this is at all a possibility. Although no one wants to be that person who restricts another’s rights somewhere freedom must have a limit. Freedom without “restraint” is potentially a very dangerous thing.

All freedom comes with the responsibility of restraint.

There is no such thing as healthy unbridled freedom. Even in the perfect world after creation, God gave Adam and Eve the gift of free moral agency —the freedom of choice—but even then God gave them limits to their freedom.

The danger of freedom is unrestrained behavior. True freedom must involve both liberty and limits because freedom without restraint always leads to bondage.

Food without restraint… creates major health issues, Driving without restraint…kills people, Pleasure without restraint… creates laziness, Spending without restraint creates debt, Morality without restraint… breeds corruption, accumulating without restraint creates selfishness, and on and on freedom without restraint goes further into bondage.

Our first parents learned this early. As soon as they exercise freedom without restraint and eat that which they were free but forbidden to do, We then find them hiding from God, accusing one another, being kicked out of the garden, and suffering the consequences of their actions by witnessing their son murder his brother. Actually through their unrestrained freedom they entered into and brought all humanity into the greatest bondage of all…. SIN.

When freedom is exchanged for a license to do whatever you want apart from God’s laws of life, it becomes sinful tyranny in your life and in the lives of others.

Our founding fathers envisioned this idea of self-government, that within every American there would be a sense of moral understanding that would guide our behavior. They knew without this God-given moral self-governance it would be impossible to maintain our freedom. In his writing on the American freedom experiment the Frenchman Tocquevville pondered the need for moral restraint when he said, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” “When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education . . . the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint. It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold.   They neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

In America we cannot continue to exercise liberty without limits without the consequence of enslaving ourselves. Many a society in history has “freedomed,” their way into bondage.

As a nation, let us never forget that freedom is a gift from God that was given to us at a great cost. Millions of men and women have paid a dear price for our national freedom, we owe it to them to live within the moral restraints of our Maker so that we ensure their sacrifice was not in vain.

As individuals true freedom is found in the garden of God’s grace, in abiding in God’s presence and living again in a right relationship with our creator. The only access to this kind of freedom is found through Jesus who is able to set us “free indeed”. (Jn. 8:36)

May God grant us the grace to know true freedom, the wisdom to know where the limits on our freedoms lie, and the courage to live within the lines.

 

 

 

 

 


What do we do now?

This headline is not original with me. Shortly after the news began to break about the tragic terrorist attack in Orlando, a friend posted this question on his Facebook timeline. I believe my friend articulates the cry of every one of us as we watch the world we live in get more difficult to understand. What do we do now?

On Sunday morning as most were waking up preparing to enjoy a beautiful day of worship or relaxation a nightmare scenario was unfolding in Orlando. For more than 3 hours a man had been shooting, holding hostage and destroying the lives of dozens of families. What we witnessed on Sunday was the worst mass shooting in American history: 49 lives tragically killed in a gay bar in Orlando, Florida. The terrorist was Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, a devout American-born Muslim who had pledged his allegiance to ISIS and who this morning (Tuesday 6 AM) has been identified by CNN as himself a gay man.

Few news stories have the convergence of so many controversial cultural issues all wrapped up in one. Nabeel Qureshi once a Muslim, now a Christian summed it up well this week when he said,  None of us can think entirely objectively, especially at the heels of a terrorist attack charged with so many political controversies. The rhetoric and agendas are flying, even though the dust has not yet settled. Gun control? Homophobia? Islamophobia?

What are we going to do? Although we all have the same reality, we all certainly do not have the same reaction. Everyone has to answer that question for themselves. Some believe this is primarily a Gun issue. Perhaps there is something we can do to limit gun crime. If there is we should do it! Yet it seems impossible to prevent someone who is determined to do harm to another from finding a way to destroying lives. If people want to hurt people, they will find ways to do it. Hate is stronger than any restriction!

Others believe this is a Gay rights issue, that those who are gay are being persecuted. Let me be clear, there is no place for violence towards anyone based on a difference of opinion. Just because we disagree over something doesn’t mean we should hurt the other nor does it mean that we should, for our disagreement, be called hateful! In this case this is complicated given the news that this man was himself gay and had been active in that lifestyle for years.

And then others believe this is a God issue. Dr. Everett Piper said “This man didn’t have a gun issue, he had a god issue.” According to this terrorist his god allowed for the slaughter of innocent Americans. The greatest influence in any of our lives is our god, defined as that thing that we love, serve or fear the most. Our god will ultimately have the greatest influence in our life. The issue of his Muslim faith and radical Islamic views are certainly relevant to this discussion as all these things are.

So, What are we going to do?

John 1:17 tells us something about Jesus that I believe helps us as we wrestle with this question. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.  In my understanding we must deal with every issue of life trying to understand how these two things apply; GRACE and TRUTH.

Jesus came into this world and illustrated these for us like no other. On the one hand no one was more gracious, kind, loving and forgiving than Jesus. And yet, no one was more unbending and direct about morality, truth, sin and eternity than our Savior.   He exhibited beautifully both sides of the coin, grace and truth. His life was the portrait of grace and truth.  His death is a beautiful, painful picture of his love for us and yet his view sin.

So what should we do? My aim is to be like Jesus and never lose grace towards those I disagree with. I want to love the hurting, care for the broken, lift up the sinful. Like Jesus I want to “do good to those who hurt me and pray for those who persecute me”. And yet I want to do this without compromising God’s truth on the issues of morality and religion that are so prevalent in our society. It is possible to be both gracious and have an unrelenting commitment to truth. Oh may we all find the truth about these issues and express grace to a hurting world!


Hand, Head or Heart?

For sure, we are living in crazy times. Not a day passes that we do not watch another tragedy of evil unfold before us. A red scrolling banner declaring “Breaking News” at the bottom of a cable news outlet is now a regular occurrence in our homes. Our news feed is bombarded with another breaking story; A car bomb, a hostage situation, a terrorist attack in Paris, or San Bernardino or an active shooter right here at Bridgewater Plaza.

As each tragedy comes and goes the days following are dominated by the discussion of the same question, Why do these things happen? Why do people walk into a Christmas party and open fire with automatic weapons? How can the mother of a six-month old baby go on a homicidal rampage knowing she is leaving that child alone on earth? Our airwaves are filled with experts all wrestling with the problem of suffering and evil in the world.

What is the answer to this question? Eventually everyone has an answer and the answers seems to center around one of three things, the Hand, the Head or the Heart. For some the HAND is the issue. For them at the root of the problem lies a need for more laws. Particularly in our culture today there is prominent discussion about passing more restrictive gun laws. The proponents of this are adamant that if we have greater laws then suffering of these kinds will be diminished. If we can restrict, by law, the hand of an individual we can bring an end to this. Others see all of these tragedies as an issue of mental health. The logic is that “no person in their right mind shoots people on live television”. We spend considerable time looking into the background of the perpetrators of these deeds and surmise if we could have gotten them to a counselor sooner or prescribed a medication prior to their tragedy this could have all been prevented.  For some all of this is a HEAD problem.

I am not an expert in either the field of gun legislation or mental health. My belief is there certainly is a place for sensible gun laws. I also have been involved in the compassionate treatment for people who genuinely suffer from mental illness. But are these the root cause of all of this madness? Is everyone who does something wicked mentally ill?  Would a new law prevent another murder?

Not much is spoken in our culture about the HEART as the source of the evil and suffering in the world. Perhaps it is because this is a theological answer in a culture that is not big on including God. However, I believe at the core of the issues in this world lies a heart that is twisted against doing what is right. The heart drives a man to look then lust then leap into sin shattering his marriage. The unbridled heart full of anger causes rational people to do the unthinkable.   Jesus said it like this;  For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.

We should know by now there are not enough laws to prevent a heart bent on destruction nor can we simply lock-up, medicate or counsel beyond those who have propensity to hurt others, for that is all of us. We have a heart problem.

When we realize this as the core issue not only do these things begin to make sense but we are also closer to finding legitimate answers to this age old question.   The one who created us can re-create us into his image and make us something better, different than we were before. It is why my friend Randy can today pastor in NY state although he was once a felon and a fugitive from the law. His hand and head changed when his heart was changed by the power of Christ!

We must understand that we all need good laws, and we must serve to heal those who may be mentally broken, however, we must realize there will never be peace in the hand or the head until there is peace in the heart. And that my friend, only Jesus Christ can give.