December 16, 2015

Guns, Terrorism, Racism, Refugees & Jesus [Part 2]

If you haven't read Part 1, I would encourage you to take 5 minutes and begin there. We are all - like it or not - a part of the discussion that needs to take place in our culture about GUNS. Hope you'll give serious, prayerful consideration to the matter. That said, moving on...

Let's talk about TERRORISM

Terrorism is an idea, concept, and word that has become as commonplace in our day and culture as the words internet or exercise. (Maybe even more so than the latter.) I think it's important to define it so the we can confront it:

Terrorism (n.) - An act of violence or intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

While I think this is a fairly simple and accurate working definition, I believe that to be closer to the current center of the target, we would have to alter it to read "political and/or religious aims". Much of what can be labeled terrorism today is being driven and catalyzed by those who think and believe they are agents of "god" for a holy war he has called for. Quite obviously, they aren't working with the same definition of "holy" that I've been given or that the Bible presents. Nonetheless, I think the most important thing for us to keep in mind - for followers of Jesus Christ to remember - is the real underlying objective of almost all acts of terrorism in our day & time. Quite simple, the goal is FEAR.

Don't misunderstand me; the motivation and catalyst behind these acts is hate, prejudice, self-righteousness, and evil. But the goal is fear. To put it this way: HATE may be the driver of the car - the one who has also metaphorically (and hopefully only metaphorically) tied you up and locked you in the trunk - but FEAR is the place that hate wants to take you. Drop you off. Abandon you. And leave you for dead. 

Fear isolates. 

Fear polarizes and paralyzes.

Fear is notorious for "making a mountain out of a molehill".

Fear divides and disrupts. 

Which helps us better understand and accept that fear is absolutely not from God.

Paul says "God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control." (2 Timothy 1:7)

John declares, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." (1 John 4:18)

When we understand what God - who himself is the definition, source, and author of LOVE - has to say about fear, we begin to understand why HATE - the complete antithesis of love - has no greater mission or satisfaction than to lure and seduce us down a path that leads straight to fear. Love drives out fear. Hate...drives head-on into it. And it's becoming apparent that many who believe they are acting out of love are actually being manipulated by hate to act out of fear. And the way we know this is by the things they say.

Jesus said, "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matthew 12:34)

The way we talk is rooted in the way we see things.
The way we see things is rooted in the way we think. This is called our worldview.
The way we think is rooted in what we believe, about God & about ourselves.
This means that as God's people, we must carefully allow the Spirit of God to examine, shape, form, and lead what we say and how we say it.

A Presidential candidate has suggested that we should "ban all muslims" from traveling to the United States. I would submit to you that this is rooted in fear. When thousands of refugees are homeless, running from TERRORISM - being driven from their home country - and we simply refuse to take them in because we FEAR the terrorists could possibly infiltrate their ranks - they have (to a degree) already won. Hate has accomplished it's goal. Love was sacrificed and handed over. Fear has taken it's place. 

Last week, Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. made some incredibly controversial and polarizing remarks in his address to the students at the school's convocation. Out of the overflow of Jerry's heart, he said:

"I've always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those muslims before they ever walked in and killed." He followed that by adding his encouragement for every student to get a permit and gun so they will all be ready to "teach them a lesson if they ever show up here." (italics mine)

I want to encourage you to think and meditate on these words for just a moment. First off, determine if you could ever, under any circumstance whatsoever known to mankind, imagine Jesus saying this. Maybe to Peter. In the garden. When the soldiers came. 

"Dangit, Peter. If you had only brought your 9mm, we could have ended those punk soldiers before they ever walked up."

Spin it however you want to. You won't make this fit with Jesus.

While we could debate for quite some time how Dr. Falwell comes up with his classification for "good people", I think the more puzzling question in desperate need of an answer is this: How many good people out there are sitting around waiting to "end those muslims"? 

Yes, I know, he was talking about the 2 muslims that walked into an office party a couple of weeks ago in San Bernardino, California, and started killing people. But what he apparently is missing is that he is ultimately feeding the beast, fanning the fire, and perpetuating the cycle. Falwell (like many others) isn't seeing that FEAR - being driven and manipulated by HATE - is fostering more HATE. When a Christian leader stands in front of a mass of Christian students and asserts that we need to be ready to "end those muslims"....FEAR has taken over. HATE has won. It may sound real cavalier and cowboy-like, but it's fear all the sameAnd what we've really become blind to is that the people on the opposite side of whatever fence we’re standing next to don't see our fear as fear; they see it as hate. When I hear someone say they want to "silence those Christians" (and yes, it's been said), there's never anyone conveniently around to classify or distinguish who those Christians are that they're referring to. And yes, Falwell attempted some forced patronizing backpedaling - realizing the reaction and backlash it was causing. But what most everyone saw was not someone remorseful for what they said or how they said it, but for how it was received. Not the same thing.

What so very often looks like hate these days is actually fear with a puffed-out chest, trying to call someone's bluff. 

Friends....Jesus didn't bluff. He didn't retaliate. He didn't puff out His chest.

Is WHAT we're saying and HOW we're saying it exposing a heart within us that is still kicking and screaming and refusing the radical way of Jesus?

While you're thinking on that for a moment, allow me to interject a COUNTERPOINT

Please know that I am not submitting or suggesting that we are never to defend or protect. We are called by a Holy God to protect the innocent and the weak from those who would maliciously attempt to abuse and/or destroy. I believe a holistic view of God's heart in the scriptures lead us to actively standing up against evil in the world. And so in these days and times, when a terrorist organization like ISIS or al Qaeda have made it clear that their sole intent and purpose is to attack, abuse, and destroy anyone and everyone in the world - particularly the West - who doesn't submit to their way of thinking, believing, and living, we have to (at some point) stand up to them, fight them, and defeat them.

Here in the United States we have thousands of men and women who have felt a calling on their lives to defend the freedom and liberty of humans - the "inalienable rights" endowed on us by our Creator. It's hard to forget the resurgence of enlisting soldiers after 9/11 - people stepping forward to say, "Here I am. Send me. I will go and take the fight to those who would dare to harm, abuse and kill the innocent and the defenseless." I bring this up to come back to the counterpoint: Is it possible that many are 1) allowing other's hate to lead them into fear and are 2) beginning to reconstruct walls that spent hundreds of years knocking down because for some reason unbeknownst to most of us, the leadership of our country has decided, "We'll just let them bring the fight to us."

Allow me to be blunt for a moment.

When TERRORISM is spreading all over the globe like an epidemic and FRANCE steps out to take the lead to fight against it, something has radically shifted in our country.

When the President of the United States refuses to send our troops (who have stepped forward to go) into harm's way - when we refuse to stand up, step out, and lead the way against evil - because we're afraid of offending someone, something is radically wrong with our country.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - who gave his life attempting to overthrow Hitler and Nazi Germany - once said, "Silence in the face of evil is evil itself; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."

I'm not talking out of both sides of my mouth here. I'm not attempting to defend or justify what Jerry Falwell said or Donald Trump suggested or a million other people thought. But I am submitting to you that much of this might not be going on if the United States of America wasn't sitting on it's hands for the first time in my lifetime, just waiting - almost beckoning - for the devil to bring destruction to our own doorstep. 

It's become a greater offense in this country to malign than to murder.

Apparently words are more powerful than sticks and stones and guns and bombs.

Friends, I write this post first and foremost to expose TERRORISM. This is what it's doing to us - inside and out. It's spreading fear. The fear of another attack. The fear of losing a way of life (which is not necessarily the way of the One we say we're following). The fear of offending someone. 

If I'm being honest, what I fear more than anything is fear ruling my life. 

Don't let it rule yours.

We know there are always going to be people in power making the wrong decisions.

We know there are always going to be people speaking for God that don't represent God.

But more importantly, we know that the God of the Universe is almighty, sovereign, just, merciful, gracious, faithful, all-knowing, omnipresent, sufficient, right and true. He is the Great Shepherd. The King of Kings. He is coming again. And He will make all things right and all things new.

TERRORISM will be done. FEAR will be erased.

Let's keep those things in mind.

December 11, 2015

Guns, Terrorism, Racism, Refugees & Jesus [Part 1]

There is so much to say. 

This past year I honestly cannot count the times I sat down to begin writing and was honestly blank or paralyzed from the sheer thought of where to begin. I know if you're a "writer", this isn't supposed to stop you. You just write. Well, I guess I might have to turn in my writer's card (whatever the heck that is).

Where to begin might be the hardest question to answer in the whole mess. Over the last 365 days it’s quite possible to feel like you’re drowning in an ocean of chaos and that the world is coming apart at the seams. If you don’t believe me or don't agree with me, allow me to stir up the pot for just a moment: ISIS, terrorism, Syrian refugees, vetting process, gun rights, gun “violence”, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, Planned Parenthood, “unedited” video, San Bernardino, Chattanooga, Paris, ban on Muslims, 1st Amendment, 2nd Amendment, and on and on and on…. What in the world is happening? (Other than exactly what Jesus and the scriptures told us would happen?)

It’s time for those who live under the banner of Jesus - his name, his cross, his resurrection, and his Kingdom - to begin to examine (or maybe begin reexamining) what that looks like. And it’s time for those who don’t claim to live under that banner, who (hopefully) would at least claim to speak and think on behalf of common sense, to start thinking, talking and acting like it. You’ve heard it said, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees.” Well, it seems there’s a lot of that going around…even with the lumberjacks. The people who should be the ones leading others to see the bigger picture in all of this seem to be the ones making the view even more difficult. 

The reason I get so frustrated with church signs - the ones out beside the road - is because 9 out of 10 times I don’t think anyone is really deliberating over the questions, “WHO are we speaking to?” and “WHAT is it we’re actually attempting to communicate?” This infection is spreading. What are we to do? Where are we to begin?

For the sake of delaying no further, let’s just start with GUNS. 

I live in Huntsville, Alabama. While the greater metro area of Huntsville is over 400,000 people, the city itself is home to less than 200,000. Redstone Arsenal is located in Huntsville. A US Army base, the Arsenal is home to the Army's Material Command, the Missile Defense Agency, Aviation & Missile Command (yes, that's a real thing), and even a wing of the Department of Defense. There are around 40,000 people working on the Arsenal as I write this. It's about 1/2 mile from my house. And because it's Friday, I fully expect my whole house to shake sometime this afternoon from someone blowing something up. What does any of this have to do with guns?

I lay all of this out to hopefully make it clear: I live in a city with a LOT of guns!

People drink sweet tea, they go to church, and they're packin' heat.

For the folks standing on the left side of the fence, allow me to share with you some of what the folks standing on the right side of the fence (meaning the opposite of LEFT, not the opposite of WRONG) in the midst of our current circumstances are hearing: 

People are not responsible. 
People are not accountable. 
Guns kill people. 
Guns load themselves, fire themselves, and actually kill people. 

Please understand me; I know that's not what (most of) you are saying, but that's what's being heard. And - like it or not - that's what the battle for "gun control" and the headline of "gun violence" is saying. As I said earlier, please follow the logic.

10-15 years ago there was one story after another that read something like this: "SUV kills pedestrian". If you were visiting here from another country, you would have been scared to death. Headlines everywhere telling of SUV's running rampant all over the place, killing people at will. As if no one was driving them. They just backed out of the garage, pulled out of the neighborhood on a death mission, and saw it through. Who on earth would be careless enough to talk this way? I'll tell you. People with an agenda. All the people who wanted SUV's off the road because they were opponents of gas and oil. This was liberal agenda language. And while many want to argue and plead, "Oh, that's not what they were trying to say!", that is most certainly what they were trying to say. This is called propaganda. It's an understanding that words can manipulate and influence, stronger than anything else. And on a sidenote, you might notice that SUV's are no longer killing people (at least not that the media are telling us). Guns have taken their place.

If you are not a gun owner (&) you are overwhelmed with the conviction that something must be done to stop all of this violence, I understand. I stand in that same place. But I stand there with the understanding that 99.89% of the people who own a gun 1) use it responsibly and 2) have a right to own it. I realize it makes some people feel better - and makes them think they are accomplishing something - to simply keep repeating, "We need more gun control" and "Something must be done about gun violence", but this is like saying you're going to beat cancer once and for all with some Neosporin and a Bandaid. It not only won't work, it's not even a remotely effective solution.

Guns don't kill people. People kill people. 

People kill people who are loved by other people who become overwhelmed with grief and simply want to know that something - if at all humanly possible - is going to be done to keep someone else from having to walk through the same pain they have.

Let's move to the other side of the fence for a moment.

People kill people. And of the almost 13,000 people who were murdered in the United States in 2013, over 11,000 of them were killed by someone using a gun. So what those of us standing on the right side of the fence (opposite of left, not opposite of wrong) must come to grips with is that, while guns do not kill people, guns are the weapon of choice by people who kill people. How do we bring this number down? What do we do about psychotic people getting ahold of guns that a Marine would need in a close proximity wartime shootout? Is there something that can be done about 3 terrorists or 2 angry and bitter high school students dressing up in bulletproof vests and ambushing an office building or movie theater or school cafeteria? How are so many people - so many sick, twisted, psychotic, delusional, angry people getting ahold of so many guns? Is there anything that can be done about this without infringing on the rights of the 99.89% who would never consider intentionally harming another human being, much less taking their life?

I don't know. But I do know this...

If both sides don't stop yelling and somehow come to the table, we'll never know.

If you're a gun owner, I believe you might be tempted to be one of those lumberjacks I spoke about earlier. And if you're a gun owner and a Christian, I want to implore you to make sure you're not missing the forest for the trees. If this is first and foremost about your rights, then you're possibly not surrendered to and fighting for the Kingdom of God. Maybe it's becoming more about the Kingdom of Guns. I know we have rights and I believe we ought to protect them, but I also know that Jesus spent an awful lot of time and energy talking about how we actually have to lay our "rights" down at his feet. The Sermon on the Mount - in particular Matthew 5:38-48 - is a manifesto. Jesus is declaring that his followers will live their lives laying down their rights. And we really don't need contextualization here. This freaked as many people out and pissed as many people off then as it does now. Jesus is radical! He rode into town on a donkey, not a white horse. Peter chopped off Malchus's ear and Jesus put it back on. He "did not cling to his rights as God, but instead emptied himself, taking the form of a servant..." (Philippians 2:5-11) If this is first and foremost about your rights, I encourage and exhort you to prayerfully reexamine who it is you're following. 

I believe those who are screaming for gun control would stop yelling so loudly if those screaming for gun rights would step up, step out, and lead the way in asking the tough questions. We've got to get out from behind our side of the fence and somehow sit down at the table. Is that possible? Can anyone stop yelling and finger pointing and politicizing long enough for that to even be a possibility? 

The more we think the solution is to just do away with everyone's rights, the higher and deeper the wall is going to grow to find a real, actual solution. And the harder and tighter we cling to our rights, usually the louder we're going to have to yell to defend them and keep them. That's not just a gun issue. It's a Kingdom issue. Because the Kingdom of God is now living within the people of God. The citizens of heaven are currently residents of earth. We're aliens, foreigners and exiles here (1 Peter 2). Babylon's problems are our problems (Jeremiah 29:1-13). This is a Kingdom issue. What kingdom are we surrendered to and fighting for?

What are your thoughts? 

Not your feelings - your thoughts?

More to come...