Thursday, December 08, 2016

On The Christian Duty to Honor the Emperors of Today

President Barack Obama
Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor President Obama and President-elect Trump.

I exchanged "emperor" for the names of our current and incoming presidents to fit our day, but other than that, these words are scripture (1 Peter 2:17 NIV).

I stand convicted on this. I have too often missed the mark. I'm particularly struck by the last part: "Honor the emperor"......because I have not always honored our "emperor", Mr. Obama. I have not always honored Mr. Trump and at this writing he isn't even yet "emperor".

In the days of Peter, the emperor would have been Caligula (the Evil Emperor who proclaimed himself a god), Claudius (the bloodthirsty Emperor who married the infamous Messalina) or Nero (the mad tyrant who blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome, and according to Church tradition, martyred Peter). Clearly, Peter was not saying honor the emperor because he is good.

So.....with that in mind, what right do I or any of us have to dishonor President Obama or President-Elect Trump with our words or deeds?

That being so, the question for us is this: how do Christians honorably disagree with the policies and deeds of the "emperor" of our day, or express concerns about fitness for office, and still obey the command of scripture?

We are clearly in a different situation than Peter's day.  For just one thing, our system of government, we participate in selecting the leaders of our land. Expressing our opinions is important.

Nevertheless, I believe the apostle's words apply just as much in these days as they did for those who lived in his day. It seems to me that the issue is a matter of honoring in our hearts… and our words will reflect that heart posture.

I have deep disagreements about politics with both Mr Obama and Mr. Trump. I have also deeply questioned the fitness of both for office. This is my right as an American, and indeed, as a human.

Where I…..and any of us who are Christians go off the rails, I believe, is when we attack the person, rather than his deeds, his policies, or his preparation for office.

We also go off the rails when we gossip. In the context of FaceBook and other social media, gossip also includes sharing information from others that we have not verified as truthful.  The amount of untruthful or questionable information being gossiped on FaceBook today is staggering.

I'm still unpacking the import of Peter's words as it relates to us today. I would be interested to hear what you think in the comments below.

A Civil War General's Words Still Inspire Still Today

I'm currently reading American Ulysses by Ronald C. White,  a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant, the American Civil War general who more than any other made Union victory possible.  There are all kinds of fascinating insights into the life of this extraordinary American here; but I'll mention just three.

Grant captured Confederate forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.  This was an important victory for the Union both strategically and politically.  Two of the forts' commanders fled leaving CSA General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Grant's former West Point classmate, in command.

Buckner asked for terms of surrender, expecting a negotiation.  Grant, woken from a sound sleep by an aide bringing Buckner's surrender note, replied with a note of his own:  "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works {fortifications}."

Grant's words were telegraphed across country and widely reprinted.  They resonated strongly in Civil War era America, and still inspire today.  They earned him the nickname, "Unconditional Surrender Grant", a play on his name and initials.

In accepting Buckner's surrender, "as Grant smoked a cigar, they talked about the size of the opposing armies. Buckner expressed surprise at the small size of Grant’s force, the Confederates having believed the number to be fifty thousand. “If I had been in command,” he said, aggravated that Grant had been able to attack the fort with so few men, “you would not have reached the fort so easily.” “If you had {been in command instead of the other generals},” Grant said  smiling, “I would have waited for reinforcements."

As he did with Buckner, Grant consistently honored his opponents in gray.  Here's another example, when Grant was asked about the victory ceremony in which the confederates would stack their rifles and the commander's sword surrendered:

"The surrender is now a fact; we have the fort, the men, the guns. Why should we go through vain forms, and mortify and injure the spirit of brave men, who, after all are our own countrymen and brothers."

Honoring our opponents in business, politics and debate, is a good lesson for us all, perhaps summed up in the words of a more recent fighter, Col. Tim Collinsif you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Ordinary Miracles and the Ineffable Goodness of God

Sometimes it's easy to forget that the trees rising from the dirt are  miracles…that rain wetting the dry ground is a mystery…that man and beast moving across the earth are complicated beyond complete understanding. That the stars that swing across the night sky are impossibly far; impressively large, incredibly diverse. That even our familiar moon is held together and in place by the miracle of order. 

We go about our lives engrossed in triumph and tragedy, in bursts of activity and times of rest. In the routine of life, it's easy to miss that we are surrounded by mystery and majesty, order and chaos. 

Life on earth is comprised of individual elements and molecules that are organized by the miracle of life into living beings smaller than a gnat to as huge as whales.  From single celled creatures to those that are able to leave the planet, we the living are fantastically diverse, and miraculous.

From what comes the miraculous spark of life?  Even if the universe and all within it and all life originated in single event, a "Big Bang"… came the "trigger" to be fueled and what was the "fuel" for that bang?  

And what is the universe?  Is it without border?  And if it is, how far from the center of it is matter distributed?  Are there endless, mind-numbing distances occupied by nothing…no light, no matter, no anything?  And if there is, what is the purpose of that infinite nothing?  

I have pondered these things for six decades.  

Today, I have an awareness that God made all and is in all, and that He saw that it was good. 
I revel in His good presence in every leaf, every animal, in every drop of rain, in the air I breathe. 

As a child I knew of God. As an adult I know God. 
As a dark-haired youth I demanded answers to "how" and "why". 
As a silver-haired man, I am content that He Is, and that He is love.....and ineffably good. 
And that He will whisper the "what".

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Dreams For America Are Not On Hillary Clinton's Path

I am going to mark my election ballot for Donald Trump.

I am going to do so in the belief that my dreams for my country, and for my family will be best realized on another path than that Hillary Clinton treads.  My vote will likely not decide the issue in a state that leans heavily towards her, but I will vote against her anyway.  Only one other candidate can possibly defeat her.

The future of our republic will in no small measure be decided by those the next president appoints to the Supreme Court.  A Clinton presidency will most likely appoint justices who believe the Constitution to be a “living document”, which seems to me to be a euphemism for “it can be interpreted to fit the needs of the current political climate.”  A Trump presidency will most likely appoint justices who respect the intents of the framers of the constitution and who believe that the constitution is a living document in that it can be changed by the amendment process.

Abraham Lincoln wrote of “a government of the people, by the people, for the people”.  Those words resonate in American dreams with the crystal clarity of a bugle call's pure note.  Yet today, it feels to me as if we are sleep walking toward “a people of the government, by the government, for the government.”  Certainly, no candidate perfectly embodies either one of these polar opposites.  But it feels to me as if Hillary Clinton is more about her and her government, and the people who can serve her and it.  That is not in my dreams for my country and my children.

I am not happy to vote for Donald Trump.  He has many failings.   But Hillary Clinton also has many failings.  Actually, I am unmoved by arguments that one has fewer failings or more.  It is for my dreams that I vote.

I considered voting for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.  California will likely vote heavily for Democratic party candidates as it has done consistently in recent decades….so my vote for Trump would probably not decide the issue, I reasoned.  I thought I wanted to be able to say that I didn’t vote for either.  But I finally realized that even if there is only a slight chance of defeating Hillary Clinton with my vote, I must appear on the electoral battlefield nonetheless.

People I love are staking out other positions.  While I might disagree, I still respect hearts that honestly seek the best for our country. Our different political views do not hinder my love.  I hope as this election passes into memory, we can rally in unity around the shared ideals of America and remember to earnestly pray “....for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

Recently I emerged from the miasma of political chatter to remember again that the plans of God are not hindered by the election of a given president.  Solomon wrote, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”  Even in the midst of the Babylonian captivity, God moved the heart of a pagan king to send Nehemiah to Jerusalem where he rebuilt the city and began the restoration of the nation of Israel.

This says to me that by short path or long, the purposes of God will prevail.  I will not fear the result of this election, because God is good.  He is for us and not against us.

That is the foundation on which all my dreams rest.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Love Broke Through

A recent love lesson in my life was a paradigm-shifting kind of lesson....the kind that takes me to a different place, the kind that demonstrates a perspective I never fully understood before.

In that love lesson, I saw love break through a tough shell that nothing else would have touched.  It left me humbled, grateful.....and more focused than ever on a life of demonstrated love.

The lesson began on a visit to San Francisco as I was walking on El Camino Real from our hotel to a nearby grocery.  Just ahead of me were two couples that had obviously been drinking.  The angry words and waving arms of one couple intensified as they walked.

I pretended to not hear or see them as I quickly walked around them.  Ten minutes later, purchases in hand, I started my return trip to the hotel.  At the door of the store, the couple was ending their fight by angrily separating.  The husband turned back in the direction I had first encountered them.

Because we were going the same way on the same sidewalk and I walk fairly fast, I was soon abreast him.....and fighting the war in my mind: "no I don't want to talk with him."  "He won't want to hear what I have for him."

But I knew I had something for him.  So, as I came abreast I slowed and told him that I saw his pain but saw also that his heart was good.

He was angry still!  He told me to keep moving, that it was none of my business, and that he didn't want Jesus.

So, I smiled at him and resumed my pace.

But then, a few seconds later, he said from behind me, "what have you got?"

I turned and let him catch up with me and we walked on together.  What I told him, in essence, was that I too was married, and marriage was hard sometimes.  I told him that I could see his heart was good.   As we so often say at Bethel, I "called out the gold" in him for several minutes.

Finally, we sat together for a while.  I continued to encourage him and tell him the good things in him that I saw.  He asked what church I was part of.   I told him that wasn't really so's not which Jesus community of which we are apart that is as important as who is our King.

When I felt our conversation had come to an end, I asked if I could pray with him.  I prophesied over him that the love that already was in his heart would grow and grow until if filled him and spattered out over his family and his marriage, and onto his friends who would wonder what had happened to him.

I did not speak about his obvious nearly drunken state, his cursing, or his vapes.  He did not need a list of problems in his life.  What he needed was to be loved.  What he needed was to hear that I could see that his heart was good and that he was loved right where he was ....... by the God of the universe, and by a brother.

After a bridge of love had been built, I gently offered some marriage advice from one brother to another.  I told him about some of my own life experiences, and about living an unoffended life.

When I stood up to go, he knew that God had spoken to him through me.  "God sent you to me!", he said.

We never exchanged more than first names, and the communities in which we lived, so I don't know the outcome in his life of this conversation.  Love had broken through a tough wall of hurt and anger, shame and guilt and brought with it hope and life.

While I have often seen the power of love in the lives of people, this was an important lesson about loving those we do not know.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Words Have Power

Your words are so weighty that
They have power to bring life or release death,
And the talkative person
Will reap the consequences.
-- Proverbs 18:21 The Passion Translation

A powerful example of the life-giving power of words occurred in our first year at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.  Our small group of men had gathered around our revival group pastor, Abi Stumvoll for time together.

After a few moments of small talk, Abi turned to me and began to tell me all the good things she saw in me. She went on and on, a few precious seconds turning into golden minutes that felt like warm liquid love cascading over and through my soul.

Life experience has taught me to expect first the honey and then the smackdown -- and really, it doesn't take very much looking to find some not-very-pretty places in me. But the smackdown never came. And in the almost four years I have known Abi, it never has. Always she tells me some new area of gold she sees in my life and calls me higher still.

She did the same for each man in her office that day. As we left, it seemed that we all looked a little taller and walked a little straighter.

Those golden words are a memory stone in my heart of the life-giving power of the tongue. Abi has the wonderful gift of being able to store up memories of the gold in others and play them back so as to build people up.

While Abi has an extraordinary gift in this area, the reality is we can all do this. Our words of love and affirmation are a medicine for the hurt places in others. They restore courage weakened by the vicissitudes of life. They help others to remember who they are.

Words can also release death. While we must sometimes speak painful truth to others, there is a way of doing so that brings life......and another that releases death. Words that bring life are the way of the Kingdom of God.

I am striving to eliminate from my tongue words that release death and replace them with words that bring life.

Words that bring life are a powerful gift of love.

What has been your experience?  Your thoughts are welcome, below.

Read more about our experience since 2012 with Bethel Church in Redding, CA

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Leadership in Christian Communities

Jesus told us how it should be with leaders among His followers. It's a way we can gauge those who lead in our Christian communities.....and a guide for our own leadership.

Here is what the Lord said: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

Put another way:
  1. Christians don't lead as is the norm in our culture
  2. Christian leaders are servants
  3. Great Christian leaders are the best servants of all
As I look back over my own leadership history, I know that I have succeeded in this at times.  But I also know that I have often failed badly....even as I have led in the Church.

It's oh-so-easy to bring the top-down leadership patterns of the culture in which we live into our own personal leadership.  I know that because I have done that.

In the Kingdom of God, top-down leadership is a poor choice.  Good leaders in the Kingdom do the hard work of figuring out how to lead their community with love and service.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Stopping Mass Shootings in America: The Role of the 1st and 2nd Amendments

It seems to me that the 2nd amendment (right to bear arms)
killed no one in San Bernardino. 
Neither did the 1st (freedom of the press). 
But consequences of both cost lives and injury that day. 

So, I have two questions: 

1) Why do some politicians quickly attack American gun ownership, while pretending not to see how sensational media coverage contributes to each new tragedy? 

2) Is it not hypocrisy when the media excoriates gun ownership after each new tragedy, but does not criticize its own contribution to our national grief?

Here are some additional thoughts on these two questions:

The first amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of the press.  It's an important addition to the constitution.  In addition to providing basic news coverage, the press -- and by extension, other media -- have the potential to keep governments and other institutions honest.  The media also has the potential to pursue its own agenda and vision for what America should become.  We have seen all of this.

In the days when the American Bill of Rights was being crafted, freedom of the press mainly meant "the press" -- newspapers and other circulars printed on a "press".  Circulation of these papers was mainly local, and distribution beyond the cities of publication was slow and non-local readership of the news small.  Non-local news was not quickly available for republication.

Today, of course, news of mass murder tragedies such as we have seen in America and abroad are covered quickly and can be known by majorities within the nation, and by large audiences around the world. Television, radio and the Internet provide almost realtime reporting. 

And this realtime reporting is often in gory detail. Rival media jockey for juicy tidbits. Those with the best tidbits and most viewers are rewarded well by advertisers.  Sensational news makes money for news organizations and investors.  Reporters learn early the old maxim, "if it bleeds, it leads".  News gathering and dissemination is mainly a profit-making enterprise.

Sensational news coverage provides a stage for killers to play out their evil.  In the case of terrorists, it's part of the feedback mechanism that keeps them on point.  The more sensational the reporting, the better was the attack.  

Bluntly, sensational reporting contributes to more injury and death.  Whether mass murder is at the hands of a looney, a local with a score to settle, or Islamic jihadis, sensational reporting paves the road to the next murder.   

That is the basis of my first question: Why do some politicians quickly attack American gun ownership, while pretending not to see how sensational media coverage contributes to each new tragedy?

Whatever the reasons for the dead air on this from some political leaders, it feels as if some coldly ignore the obvious problem of sensational reporting in pursuit of their own anti-gun agendas.  

There is no easy solution for this problem.  Must we infringe first amendment rights to solve this problem just as second amendment rights have already been infringed?  

Why aren't we talking about this right now?  Why isn't the media uniting to establish a set of best practices to solve this?

And that raises my second question: Is it not hypocrisy when the media excoriates gun ownership after each new tragedy, but does not criticize its own contribution to our national grief?

After each new set of murders, the media generally call for greater control of guns.  Pursuit of solutions is noble, but failure to examine its own culpability is irresponsibility and hypocrisy at best, and cold blame shifting at worst.

While I have read some good thinking on this subject by the media (see this guest article in the Wall Street Journal, for example), the coverage is microscopic in comparison to the the full-court press on guns.

It feels like hypocrisy.

Finally, I do believe there are ways to reduce the number of guns legally being sold to those who should just not ever have them.  Even if we only keep loonies and jihadis from easily purchasing firearms, lives will be saved.

But will massive gun control solve the larger problem?  One need only examine the much more stringent and largely useless French gun control in the Paris attacks.  It didn't seem to help.  How could it?  Gun control is a symptom...evil in men's hearts is the problem.

We need a more comprehensive solution of which the media must be a part.  And, like it or not, the right to keep and bear arms is still a fundamental right of Americans.

What do you think?  I'm interested in your thoughts on this.  Please leave a comment below!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Syrian Refugees: Yes

America should take in Syrian refugees. The ancestors of every single person in this country came from somewhere else. Every wave of newcomers has contained risky people....that joined some risky people already here. 

Some of my ancestors were refugees from economic hardship or religious persecution in Northern Europe. Not all of us have refugees in our family tree....but my guess is that most of us do. 

Arguably, we should admit these desperate people in part because OUR decisions contributed to their misery. OUR decision to withdraw from Iraq before Iraqis were ready opened the door to ISIS. OUR decision to back the opposition in Syria has deepened the misery in that country. 

I do think that refugee resettlement must be done in consultation with the states. Setting aside constitutional questions of questionable federal authority, it is just bad government for the Obama administration to push refugees onto the states with what appears to be minimal or non-existent consultation. 

And I also think we should take a higher road than simply accepting U.N. certified refugees as we are now apparently doing. Middle Eastern Christians and other refugees of minority religious and ethnic groups are under represented in U.N. rolls because many won't register for fear of persecution by Muslims. The higher road would be to seek out and open our arms to these who are most in danger. 

Yes. There are risks. Among these broken people are almost certainly at least a few ISIS jihadis. But we decided to live with that risk decades ago as we allowed Muslims from many lands to come into our county. Jihad is an article of faith for Muslims (although most Muslims would never take part in violent jihad). But what the majority believes is irrelevant....because all it takes is a few Muslims who believe in violent jihad to cause new grief among us. 

Finally, and most importantly, we should take them in because this is who we are: a nation that is made of many nations. Our national motto, e pluribus unum, is on our coins.  It means "out of many, one." We should take them in because once we quit obsessing over the horrific scenes in Paris, I believe we will realize our hearts are telling us that this is the right thing to do. Our love and compassion will finally compel us.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Train Up a Child in the Way She Should Go.....

Solomon was trained from childhood to choose wisdom above everything else. Is it possible that he was the only one God gave this choice of a lifetime to because he was the only one we know of who was trained to make the right decision? I think it is highly possible. If that is true, then what are the parallels for us as we teach the next generation? What are we drawing into the lives of our young people through our faith-filled training? In what manner are we raising the generation to come? Our prophetic decrees over them might actually attract opportunities from God. God is the ultimate steward, opening doors where they will be walked through the most.

When my children were growing up, I put them to bed by repeating these two charges night after night: `Remember, you are part of a team that is here to change the world,' and, `When you go to sleep tonight, ask God if there is anything that is impossible that He wants you to do.' It was my effort to raise children who know no limits.

This excerpt is from The Power that Changes the World: Creating Eternal Impact in the Here & Now a recent book by Bill Johnson.

Normally I quickly fall asleep. But, after reading those words last night, sleep came slowly. My heart was on fire with the implications of those words.

What if we trained our children from their earliest days that they are beloved sons and daughters of the King of Glory.....and that the King is in a good mood?

What if we trained them to believe they can have the righteous power of princesses and princes in the Kingdom of God?

What if we trained them to turn their ears to wisdom and apply their hearts to understanding as for hidden silver?

What if we trained them that it can be on Earth as it is in Heaven more than we have ever seen in the history of the Church?

And what if we trained them to believe they can be so very important in making that happen?

My heart is pumping hard with hope and expectation.