Monday, March 16, 2015

Mr. Spock Is Dead ... And We Greive?

Mr. Spock is dead and we grieve. It’s odd. We grieve the “death” of a fictional character more than the actor that brought him to life.

Leonard Nimoy was 83 years old when he passed away. In addition to being an actor for T.V., stage, and movies, he was a producer, photographer, writer, director, and singer. Most people didn’t know Leonard Nimoy, but almost everyone felt like they “knew” Spock.

We “know” our morning weather reporters, Randy, Chuck, or Kevin; they greet us every morning before we “interact” with Robin Roberts, Matt Lauer, or our “Friends” – Steve, Elizabeth, and Brian. We develop “relationships” with them, but we don’t really know them.

Then there are the people we love to hate; the evil team owner, or coach, or quarterback that “always cheats.” The elected official on the “other side” who lies through his/her teeth and wants to destroy the universe as we know it; the President, the Governor, or the Superintendent.

We get upset when “our” people are attacked, and spew vile hatred for those that have “done them wrong.” But do we really “know” any of them? Why do we invest in these imaginary relationships? And why do we starve or poison our real-life relationships?

When we behave this way, we are at risk spiritually, and culturally.

President George Washington, identified an early threat to the nation as he was leaving office; he called it the “spirit of party”.

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism … the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it … It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another … it is a spirit not to be encouraged ... A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.”

The spirit of party, or the spirit of division, always bursts into flame and consumes those that practice it.

But for the Christ follower, there is also spiritual danger.

The Apostle John said, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”

Similarly, Paul told the church in Galatia, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

Spock is not just dead, he never lived – he was fictional. But every person we place into the categories of “Us vs. Them” is alive. We might not like what they do, but they deserve the respect and love that belongs to another child of God. We might enjoy that they are on “our side”, but that doesn’t mean they are flawless.

Let’s do away with the “spirit of party.” Let’s use our freedom to serve one another in love. Invest in real relationships. Spend less time cultivating a “relationship” with someone who doesn’t know who you are. The choice is yours. Choose well. Live long and prosper!

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Don't Get Immunized ... Spiritually

Immunizations are suddenly newsworthy again. Should we immunize our kids or not? Regardless of your answer, immunizations have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Here's how it works. You inject a physically healthy person with a weakened or dead virus. The person's body "thinks" it's a carrier of the real infection and produces antibodies. The antibodies then multiply and usually stick around long enough to fight the real virus, if it ever shows up. Instead of being a carrier, the person has become inoculated from the actual virus.

Spiritually, it usually works backward; We become inoculated from the real life God wants us to live. One common spiritual immunization is called "Giving Back".

Giving back sounds like a wonderfully biblical idea. But it's not. It inoculates us from Godly giving.

The phrase, "giving back", is fairly new and reveals a foreign idea that has invaded our thinking. Giving back almost always means giving to our community, because "the community has provided so much." Some even suggest that the community made us who we are. They think that everything we have, every opportunity we have been given, is because someone in the community gave it to us.

In a subtle way, we're worshiping our community by giving an offering to the source of our blessings. But what does scripture say?

James writes, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." Every gift!

Every good and perfect gift that we receive has its origin in God. It is God that has provided the ability to generate wealth, and it's God who has provided finances through our employer. Our children are gifts from God. Your spouse is a gift from God. Every good and perfect gift.

That also means that every good and perfect gift that we give someone else, doesn't come from us…it comes from God and flows through us. We are not the source of the gift. We might have given the gift, but God is the original source.

"Giving back" assumes that someone or something other than God is the source of all of the good things in our life. And it also assumes that there is a limit on the amount of "good stuff." There's only so much "good stuff"; someone gave some to us and we are obligated to give it back, spread it around.

Giving back is also bad theology because we start thinking that giving back is enough. But even giving to God, as a way to pay Him back, is off target.

Giving is an essential element of God's character. The Bible has over a thousand references to giving or tithing. It's such a central theme that many believe the church is only concerned about money. But here's the truth: God doesn't need our money.

Paul told the church in Colossae that, through Christ "all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

God doesn't need our money, but He desperately wants us to be people who give generously, extravagantly! When we truly understand that there is so much more than a fixed amount of "good stuff", that there is no limit, when we understand that "in him we live and move and have our being," then giving will come naturally.

Jesus said, "Whoever believes in me…streams of living water will flow from within him." One of the passages in Ezekiel He was quoting from reads, "…so where the river flows everything will live … Fruit trees of all kinds will grow…Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing."

Instead of simply giving back, God wants us to be "streams of living water" that transport all of the blessings to our neighbors; blessings that constantly flow from Him. They're new every morning!

Don't just "give back"; be a carrier of unlimited blessings from the source of every good and perfect gift! Maybe it will start an epidemic!

Questions or comments?

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Hoosiers - Let's Do It This Time

South Dakota passed one in 1984 and South Carolina passed their version twenty years ago. Last year, Indiana was poised to follow suit but was foiled in the last hour (literally) by people who file suits for a living. The Indiana Volunteer Medical Health Shield bill (HB 1145) is long past due and 2015 is the year to make it happen.

The economy of Indiana continues to exhibit strong growth. The unemployment rate has been cut by more than 28% in two years. With balanced budgets, healthy financial reserves, lower taxes, and increased funding for strategic priorities, Indiana has become the Midwest state that everyone wants to emulate.

But there are still too many Hoosiers who are trapped in a cycle of crisis, where threats to housing, health, and hunger have overwhelmed their lives. One out of every six Hoosiers are considered to have "food insecurity." That's more than one million Indiana residents who struggle to put food on their table. When these people face a decision between groceries or basic medical services, groceries will win every time.

Over time, the neglected health care for these families result in taxpayer funded emergency room visits because of health concerns that cost more, and now take longer to treat. Societal side effects include longer emergency room waits, and occasional delays in identifying real medical crises.

Meanwhile, the State of Indiana has thousands of health care workers, many of whom travel to countries around the world to provide basic health care to individuals in need. These medical workers have the utmost respect for life and have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity. Volunteering comes naturally to many of them. They would welcome the opportunity to volunteer health services in their communities, but Indiana law and the threat of litigation prevents them from helping Hoosiers.

That's where the Volunteer Medical Health Shield bill comes in. House Bill (HB) 1145 would open the door for medical professionals to volunteer in their local communities. Underserved and at-risk youth could receive free sports physicals at a local YMCA or Boys & Girls Club. Seniors on a limited income, could receive a free health screening during a visit to the food pantry.

The Volunteer Medical Health Shield would cost taxpayers nothing, while providing the cost savings realized with fewer taxpayer-funded emergency room visits for primary care needs. The State of Washington, when considering a similar bill, calculated their savings to be at least $6 million over a six month period, with other estimates totaling four times that much!

The human impact would be significant as well. With medical professionals volunteering their expertise, our communities would be healthier. Low-income Hoosiers would be able to use what funds they do have to address other pressing needs. More underserved youth with free physicals would have access to after school and summer sports.

HB 1145 costs nothing, saves millions in taxpayer dollars, strengthens Hoosier communities, and is nonpartisan. The Volunteer Medical Health Shield would be law today if it wasn't torpedoed at the last minute by a handful of individuals who would rather threaten litigation than see professional health care workers serve their neighbors and strengthen their communities. We can't let that happen again.

It's time for Indiana to help thousands of Hoosiers gain free access to basic health services. It’s time to unburden medical professionals from the law, and threats of litigation that prevent them from serving their most vulnerable neighbors. It’s time to free Indiana’s health care workers to pursue their passion to serve those in greatest need. We need the Volunteer Medical Health Shield bill.

Now is the time to contact our State Representatives and Senators and ask them to continue to make Indiana the state that others look to for leadership. Ask them to support the Volunteer Medical Health Shield bill (HB 1145):

Indiana House of Representatives – General Switchboard: (800) 382-9842 or the Office of Rep. Brian Bosma, Speaker of the House at (317) 232-9677

Indiana Senate – General Switchboard: (800) 382-9467 or the Office of Sen. David Long, President Pro Tempore at (317) 232-9416

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Thursday, February 5, 2015

Immigration ... Maybe They're Both Wrong

Support for immigrants cost him his party's nomination for President. Lincoln went on to become President in 1860 instead of William Seward, who became the Secretary of State in Lincoln's administration.

Later, Republicans opposed illiterate immigrants; Democrats opposed importing "pauper labor" to do the menial jobs. That was the 1896 election between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley.

Teddy Roosevelt said, "Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country." Franklin D. Roosevelt, disagreed saying, "Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists."

Little has changed in one-hundred years with respect to politics and immigration.

Conservatives say, "Close the borders and restrict immigration to individuals with the skills and talents to make our society thrive. They, in turn, can benefit from the American Dream."

Progressives say, "Do away with borders. We are all citizens of the world. Let anyone who wants to, come and benefit from the American Dream."

What both are really saying is, "We've got it pretty good here; the only question is who and how many are we going to allow in to enjoy it?"

But the men and women who founded the United States were missional - both in their faith and in their form of government. They believed that, to have a good government, you needed to have citizens who were grounded in the Christian faith. Their ultimate dream and ambition was to see their faith and their form of government spread to every nation around the world.

"You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are." - George Washington.

"…we cannot better express ourselves than by humbly supplicating the Supreme Ruler of the world… that the confusions that are and have been among the nations may be overruled by the promoting and speedily bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is the Prince of Peace." - Samuel Adams.

"…the religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and His apostles… This is genuine Christianity and to this we owe our free constitutions of government." - Noah Webster.

"…the Christian religion – its general principles – must ever be regarded among us as the foundation of civil society." - Daniel Webster.

Rush County was named after one of the three most notable Founding Fathers, Benjamin Rush. In 1791 he wrote, "Christianity is the only true and perfect religion; and… in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts, they will be wise and happy."

These statements show that the founders believed that Christianity was the only foundation that would make a democratic republic work. And they longed for the day when every nation around the world would follow their lead. But statements like these are not politically correct. How could we impose our belief system on others?

But, if we've found something that works, why is it okay to keep it to ourselves? How self-centered, and uncaring are we to let other people struggle with oppressive governments while we enjoy the fruits of our founders' vision and labor?

If the Bible really is the Word of God, if it really can transform the human spirit, if it can take spiritually dead people and make them live again, why wouldn't it impact our everyday lives? Daniel Webster said, "Whatever makes men good Christians, makes them good citizens." If that's true, won't good citizens make good governments?

What would it be like if every leader around the world prayed like Solomon, "…give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong"? 1 Kings 3:9a

We can take part in the immigration debate that has been argued for many decades, or we can recapture our founders' vision by becoming missional both in our faith, and how it can impact our everyday lives. The choice is yours. Choose well.


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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Don't Be Lazy When Digesting News

"... the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines." Proverbs 18:17

With the political season ramping up again, I will probably repeat this several times over the next two years. What do you know, and how do you know it? I'm seeing very ugly comments about issues and people, coming out of the mouths (and fingers) of people who should know better … but maybe that's the point. No matter how much you want it to happen, you WILL NOT have truth spoon fed to you. It is your responsibility to dig, and ask questions, and listen to other perspectives, and come to your own conclusions. With that said, here are some things you can count on:

1. Where do you get your news? How do you know it's accurate? The most effective lies are the ones that only tell a portion of the truth. Most people are deceived, not because they don't know the truth, but because they only know part of the truth.

2. EVERY news outlet has to filter what they distribute. They only have so much time on air, or so much space on the page. They tell you what they think is most important. The rest of the story, if they even know it, remains untold. Always keep this in mind.

3. There are flame throwers on both sides. If you really care about an issue, it YOUR job to explore every angle, and let every "side" tell their story. If you only listen to one side, you will be deceived.

4. With rare exception, stories with which I have personal knowledge are broadcast or published with errors, incomplete information, or outright falsehoods. Don't believe everything you see or hear.

5. There are people with power, from every political stripe (and in every organization, including the church and your workplace), that have learned to divide and conquer. Every time you fall for the "us versus them" argument, you've already lost. If you demonize your opponent, you've lost. One of the reasons the Constitution of the United States is such a powerful document is because it starts with, "We the People …" Don't let people put you in a box, and don't let people put others who disagree with you in a box. Us versus Them will NEVER be as powerful as We.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Je suis Charlie?

"Choose your allies carefully: it's highly unlikely that you'll ever be held morally, legally, or historically accountable for the actions of your enemies." Some New Tactical Reflections by L. Neil Smith

During an editorial meeting with cartoonists and satirists at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, two hooded men walked in with automatics and started shooting. The world was shocked and outraged. The aftermath of the attack was five injured and twelve dead, including a police officer, and a maintenance worker at a building two doors down from the intended target. Horrible, unspeakable violence justified, some would argue instigated, by religion.

Our natural reaction to such violence, or tragedies in general, is to rally around the victims and stand shoulder to shoulder with survivors. We create shrines of flowers, and candles, and stuffed animals at the scene of the tragedy. In recent years we've begun identifying with the victims. Live Strong, Chuck Strong, I Will Get Out Of My Car, I Can't Breathe, and now Je Suis Charlie.

"Je suis Charlie" means, I am Charlie. I've seen Christians post "Je suis Charlie". Politicians and Hollywood stars take pride in saying, "Je suis Charlie". Over 40 world leaders from nearly every world power marching in the streets of Paris under the banner, "Je suis Charlie". But is that who we really want to identify with?

Most people who say, "Je suis Charlie" have never read, or even seen Charlie Hebdo. To say that Charlie Hebdo is political satire is the most charitable way to describe the magazine. Charlie Hebdo is irreverent, offensive, divisive, and in many cases, repulsive. I doubt many Christians would proclaim, "Je suis Charlie" if they saw the cartoon depiction of Jesus having sexual relations with God the Father.

The world is not binary. Either on or off. Right or left. It is not always true that, "If you are not for me, then you are against me." What happened to the writers and editors of Charlie Hebdo was despicable and should never have happened. But that doesn't mean that we should identify with Charlie Hebdo. Sometimes the enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

I am not Charlie. I am not Al-Qaeda. But who am I?

Scripture encourages us this way: "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." Eph 5:1-2 NASB

Our task is to identify with Christ, to imitate Him as best we can in every situation. But where does that leave Charlie?

If I am not Charlie, if we take the "I" out of "Je suis Charlie", we are left with something intriguing: Je-sus Charlie. Even as we are called to identify with Christ, Jesus has already identified with us, all of us. Even the cartoonists and editors of Charlie Hebdo.

"… Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.'" 1 Peter‬ ‭2‬:‭21-24‬ NIV

Every citizen, and especially every Christ follower, has a responsibility to oppose the terrorism prevalent in the world around us. We should roundly condemn violence in the name of God. But our identity is found and bound up in Jesus, our Messiah. Charlie Hebdo already has someone who identified with them - and bore their sins. And that is both the beauty and mystery of God.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Depression is real. Deal with it.

Monday evening social media exploded. Many say they are mourning. Most are simply remembering a great entertainer; mourning our loss of a source of entertainment. Robin will be missed because he brought joy and laughter.

I never met Robin Williams. Most who did meet him probably didn't KNOW him.

But genuine mourning for Robin Williams is occurring. The loss of a father, a husband, a creative partner. They will miss the person, Robin Williams. Those types of losses are enormous, and the mourning will be great.

Christian scriptures frequently address mourning, but most people try to avoid it. The death of Robin Williams gives us an opportunity to think about subjects we try to avoid including mourning and depression.

Depression is real. Deal with it.

The author of Psalm 42 writes, "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God." Jesus mourned over Jerusalem saying, "how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." There's even a whole book in the bible called Lamentations, grieving the judgment being poured out on God's people.

Depression has many causes, and is rarely only a spiritual issue. When Elijah was depressed and running away from Jezebel, God wouldn't even talk to him until Elijah got some good sleep and started eating right. If you are depressed, make sure you are eating healthy foods and getting enough rest.

God has given each of us an incredible machine called the human body. When you exercise, your body is designed to produce and release hormones that make you feel great. These hormones can help you dig out of depression, and start enjoying life again.

Also, people have a more positive view on life when they have fun in the sun. Many avoid depression during the dark winter months by simply sitting in front of a lamp that replicates the kind of light that is only found in sunlight.

But sometimes your body stops working the way it was designed. Hormone levels are abnormally low, or blood sugar levels develop wild swings, and your emotions, along with that feeling of wellbeing, take a dive.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression. All I wanted to do was sit on the back porch and stare at the clouds. Some people with depression just sit on the couch and watch TV. Others never make it out of bed. These conditions are serious and need to be addressed.

In my case, we attacked depression from every angle. I got more rest. I reduced my stress level. I started eating right. I started exercising more. I invested a few hours in talking with a Christian counselor. I read the bible more and prayed more. And I started supplementing low hormone levels with medication under the direction of my doctor. (By the way, he also prays with his patients and prescribes select passages of scripture!)

In addition to depression, here are a few more topics we avoid.

First, suicide is no joke. If someone starts talking about taking their life, even as a joke, tell someone. Most people who commit suicide talk about it before they attempt it.

Secondly, hurting people, hurt other people. Sometimes hurting people make others laugh. Be sensitive to the bullies and the comedians around you. They may be suffering through wounds that you can't see on the outside. Pray for them and with them. Encourage them and bring God's healing into their lives.

Finally, life is short. Death is certain. Keep short accounts. Paul told the church in Ephesus, "Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry." Say the things you need to say to the people you love before it's too late.

Jesus came to give life and He grieves when we throw it away. His followers should be sources of living water, not parched deserts of gloom.

As we mourn the death of a brilliant comic, don't miss this opportunity to deal with some of these issues in your own life or those around you. Carpe Diem! Seize the day!

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