Are You Standing Still or Moving Forward?

How is Jesus changing you from the inside out right now? When is the last time you can recall that the Lord moved something in your heart to be more like His heart? It’s a real question and I would really encourage you to think about it for a minute. God wants us to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind,” (Romans 12:2), so ask yourself if it’s really happening within your soul.  If Jesus is moving in your soul in a mighty way, rejoice!

If, though, you can’t remember the last time that the Holy Spirit moved through your soul then it’s time to consider changing your approach to the Christian life.  We can’t change ourselves; that’s God’s place. However, we can “tie the knots and set the sails” in our heart so that when the Spirit blows like a wind, we are ready to move. To be ready, be invested in:

  1. Truth. Be invested in the truth of God found in the Word of God. Sunday morning worship and Bible study are a great place for that.
  2. Community. You become like who you hang around, so choose to be with people becoming like Jesus! Small groups are the place community happens.
  3. Openness. We change when we’re ready to change and never before. Openness is the heart of Life Transformation Groups (LTGs), where we can be honest with ourselves and a very few trusted others.

To come in from the fringes and deeply experience Jesus, you need all three. So how are you getting them?

Wading into the SB1062 debate

BillyDeeIt may be folly to actually make a public statement on something as volatile as SB1062, called the “Religious Freedom Bill” by proponents and lambasted as a discriminatory bill against gay people by opponents. I may be getting myself in trouble with friends near and dear to me on both sides of the aisle by saying a word about it, but as Lando Calrissian once famously quipped, “Here goes nothing!”

My first thought is that most people’s opinions of SB1062 come solely from what others have said about it. They haven’t read it, even though the entire legislation is 2 pages long and not hard to read. If you’re one of them, then learn something by reading it. It’s not too much legalese…it’s pretty easy to actually understand. Not that there aren’t nuances of interpretation and application, but it’s not like it’s rocket science here.

Now to my understanding. I personally think it is a tempest in a teacup. The only thing that this bill really does is allow corporations to claim the same exemption for sincere religious beliefs that individuals now have. Most corporations aren’t huge businesses like Walmart; they’re small businesses like a landscaping company that has an LLC or a mom and pop restaurant that has an incorporation document for liability and taxes.

I guess I am pretty libertarian in my leanings. I think that the government should stay out of peoples’ lives as much as possible. I think that there MUST be protection from any discrimination whatsoever in dealings with the government, but those protections don’t (or shouldn’t) apply to private businesses. The first amendment protects people from government intrusion on free speech, but it does not protect a person from being thrown out of a business if they say something the owner or manager finds offensive. There is a huge difference in my opinion between government and private enterprise.

Say, for instance, my wife wanted to have her hair cut. She goes to a barber shop but the barber, a Muslim, won’t cut it because his religion doesn’t allow him to touch women. (this is not hypothetical…it happened in Ontario, Canada) In my opinion, he should have the right to refuse service to anyone he wants to, and if he can’t cut her hair then that’s not a human rights issue. She can go elsewhere; if he chooses that business practice, then he can live with the business consequences.

I feel the same way about no smoking laws. A business should, in my opinion, be free to set their own policy on allowing smoking in their establishment. If one allowed smoking I wouldn’t go there, but they set their clientele with their policy. The same holds true in other areas. For instance, in Arizona people can carry firearms for personal protection. A business can put up a sign prohibiting the carry of firearms on their premises. If they do, a good number of my friends won’t go there. It’s perfectly acceptable for them to have that policy as private business owners, though they set their clients by their policy.

What that highlights is that my opinion is that the protections we have are mostly from our government, not from each other. If a business wants to adopt a policy that they won’t serve white people, that’s their prerogative in my opinion. I won’t go there and I am okay with it. I think that the free market would take care of most such businesses in America, frankly. If a business adopts policies that too many customers find objectionable and they take their business elsewhere, the business changes or folds. That’s economics 101 in a capitalistic society.

Now as to whether it is wise for a business owner to fall back on religious reasons for not serving a customer, I think that it can be but it must be done with care. My wife owns a business helping women have babies as a doula and midwife in training. I own a business teaching self defense part time. Many of my friends own businesses. I also pastor a church, which is an Arizona corporation upon whose board of directors I sit. Should we be able to set our own policies? Absolutely.

  1. As a pastor there are some weddings that I can’t perform as a matter of my faith and as a pastor of my church. We have policies to that effect. (these revolve mostly around who is eligible in the Scriptures to marry) I have protection to exercise my faith and to do so within my corporation of our church.
  2. My wife gets to set who she thinks that she should work with as a doula and midwife. If she knows that a couple wants religious rites at her birth and that she is required to participate in them, and they violate her faith, she absolutely should have the right to decline that client.
  3. If a racist skinhead with a swastika tattoo and hateful attitude registers for my classes, and I am genuinely concerned that he will use the skills I teach him for harming others rather than protecting himself and his loved ones from aggression, I should 100% have the right to decline to train him. This is part of my faith, that I teach defense and not aggression, protection and not harm. I should be able to live that out in my business, whether it is a sole proprietorship or a corporation.
  4. Our church has a membership covenant and as a corporation should be able to decide who our membership is. If that excludes some people because of their choices, that should be our determination. For instance, our church does not believe that the Bible allows for sexual intimacy outside of marriage. If a couple were living together outside of marriage, we would not welcome them as members of our congregation (though we would welcome them to come worship and be loved). We should be able to set that standard. (and we are under current law)

All that said, are we going to see businesses adopt anti-gay stances or have discriminatory policies? Not much. I am a conservative Christian and have trained people at ASP who are gay, for instance. No problem. I have invited friends who are not Christians to do business with me, to come to worship with us at our church, and my wife has helped women in many walks of life and with many religious affiliations (including none) to have their babies. This is the ebb and flow of life in a pluralistic culture.

But do I want protection from prosecution if I won’t marry a cohabitating couple who aren’t willing to go through premarital mentorship? Yes, yes I do. Do I want to be able to turn someone away from my self-defense classes who I fear will twist my teaching, knowing that I am somewhat responsible for the abilities of my students? Yes, I do. Do I want my wife not to worry about losing her midwifery license because she politely declines a client so as not to participate in a Wiccan birthing ceremony? Yes, I most certainly do.

Do I also want to consider my Christian witness in all of these decisions? Yes I do. I have talked to many couples in the first situation, and in love offer to walk them toward marriage in whatever situation they find themselves. I can’t officiate a wedding because of my convictions that doesn’t meet a certain set of criteria, but I have offered mentorship and marriage building help to those couples. (offered it many times, in fact) I’ve trained people whose philosophy differs from my own, whose worldview is not mine, and who worship a different God. I don’t ask for a doctrinal statement from my students in self defense! My wife has helped many women have babies whose religious beliefs are very different than ours are, and over all these situations we have prayed and decided to be a light in their life and that the actions we took were acceptable to our Lord. Most businesses, in the vast majority of situations, would do the same.

I don’t want the guvmint in those decisions. They are private decisions and should be so.

If you comment, please be kind to others in your comments. Thanks!

A Little Help

Sometimes, a little help from someone with knowledge and ability goes a long way. And sometimes God uses a problem in life to remind us about spiritual truth.

I’ve had a headlight out on my truck for a long time. It’s never been that big of a deal to me, but it’s not really safe either. I replaced the bulb and that wasn’t it. I checked the fuse and that was fine. So, knowing that it was somewhere in between and not knowing how to proceed, I left it. That was all well and good until Thanksgiving weekend, when I got pulled over and given a fix-it ticket by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. No more ignoring the problem!

I don’t have the owners manual for my truck. I used to, but the truck got stolen a few years ago and when it was recovered the manual was missing. But that’s okay, my Google Fu is strong so I looked up the problem and found the right fuse in the fuse panel on a reputable forum for my truck. I checked that fuse (which was good) and the bulb by switching it to the other side. (also good) I knew it was in the wiring and had no more ability to check it from there.

Sigh. This would be expensive. A good mechanic with electrical knowledge is about $120 an hour.

I also have a man who just started attending our church who loves cars. He owns several project cars and wanted to help me solve the problem. So on Sunday afternoon I took it to him and showed him what I had done so far. I told him that I had checked the bulb and the fuse output and it was somewhere between them. I told him that I looked it up online and that I knew it was fuse #23 on my fuse panel.

Oh no, he told me, that’s wrong! He had looked it up in the actual manual (he has an online subscription to a library of manuals as a mechanic) and it was actually fuse #47 we needed to check. And lo and behold, there was no fuse in the spot for #47. He put a 10A fuse in it and viola! Good as new.

10 seconds. A ten cent part. A simple fix. And a world of difference between the guy who thought he knew what he was talking about and the guy who actually did. With a little help from a pro and a bit of knowledge, my fix it ticket was taken care of.

As I drove home with both headlights functioning I got to thinking about how this is a great analogy for the Christian life.

  1. I needed to know truth but had been fed a falsehood. Jesus said to some new believers in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We need to know what God says about life and everything, and there are plenty of people who think they can tell us what God says who really can’t. Without the truth of God’s Word we are in trouble and can think we know what the problem is while in reality being misled.
  2. We need leadership and community. In Luke 6:39-40 Jesus says, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We all need mentorship and guidance from those who live for Christ in authentic and appropriate ways. (Hebrews 13:7 says the same) If we try to make it in the Christian life by ourselves, we fail. And just like I needed someone older and wiser in the ways of cars than I was, we too need mentors and leaders who we go to for help with living for Christ.
  3. I waited a LONG time to fix a problem that was simple and easy to fix. That was dumb. Likewise, how often do we put up with sin or problems in life when the answers are available?
Have you experienced this kind of thing? Where have you needed some truth and a little guidance to solve what you thought was a huge issue that in reality was pretty simple?

 

A BIG Transition

Yesterday I noted that every living thing changes. That’s true of families just like it is of organizations. Laura and I announced a fairly major family change on my Facebook last week and it’s generated enough questions to warrant a more thorough explanation.

What was the major family change? Well, since our oldest daughter was 4 years old, we’ve been a homeschooling family. She graduates from high school this month, and we’ve had all four of our kids at home for school for over a decade. But next month our oldest will enroll in college full time, our son will enroll in the local middle school and our youngest daughters will head to the local elementary school.

If you don’t care why, then thanks for reading and I would appreciate your prayers as we transition. 🙂

If you do care, allow me to explain. I explain not to justify but just to offer insight into our process and our priorities. If it helps you assess your process and priorities, no matter your schooling decisions for your kids, then I am excited for that.

We have been enthusiastic but not militant homeschoolers for a long time. For us, it has always boiled down to the truth that we wanted Christ in our curriculum, we wanted the kids to be able to learn without peer pressure, and we wanted them to be able to work at a pace that was good for them. But we also always said that we would re-evaluate every child every year. And this fall, as we evaluated our family and our kids, we decided that the best education and experience that they could get would be in a public school. There are several reasons for that.

Number one, we felt that it was best for our kids at this time. Jesus said, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, ESV) We have worked hard to help our kids stand firm in Christ and know Him. They are “as innocent as doves.” But what they aren’t is as wise as serpents, and it’s time in our eyes for them to get a little of that exposure. Plus, our son wants to play football in high school and our girls want to learn musical instruments. 🙂 They can do that from home as well, but this is far easier and probably better for them.

Second, and I don’t say this lightly, my amazing and talented and beautiful and incredible wife was diagnosed with clinical depression this fall. Now, I tell you that simply to brag on my wife a bit for being strong enough to come forward, find hope in Christ and seek healing. That takes incredible guts and also takes real concentration and focused effort.

Go read the link above from WebMD and ask yourself if you could be successful as a teacher while dealing with that. I know I couldn’t be.

Third, given the first two we looked at our kids and felt that our homeschool was just not being as successful as we want it to be. It wasn’t structured enough for our needs, and the kids weren’t getting the education we want them to with teachers who are excited about their subject and teaching in general.

Finally, Laura wants to pursue her dream of being a midwife. That will take time and effort to go to school, and she feels like she serves Christ when she is in the birthing community. I want to encourage that and so do our kids.

So to help our whole family serve Christ more fully, we decided the best thing for us right now is for the kids to go to public school. We’re excited for our kids to love on their schoolmates in Christ, to be a light to their teachers, and to get involved more fully and missionally in our community. We’re excited to support Laura as she seeks healing from severe depression and to affirm her calling and gifting. We’re confident that this is what is best for our kids at this time. And it’s not a permanent decision, as we will assess this summer how the spring went and see if we want to stay on this course or make another change for the following year.

I hope you do the same. I hope you look at life right now and ask yourself if what you’re doing helps you serve the Lord, or if you need to make a change. And I pray that this might help you have the courage to change if you need to.

 

Where does the time go?

I know a lot of people who wonder what a pastor does. We have a running joke at my church that I only work for 30 minutes a week! (which is how long my sermons usually last…okay, more like 35-40) It’s true, I do know some pastors whose golf game is too polished for their own good, and some who spend too much time on Facebook. (pointing the finger at myself there!)

 

But if you wonder what your pastor does, chances are that’s because he’s not allowed to share with you what he is doing. Hear me out.

 

When you ask what he did today, how in the world can he answer that he sat and talked with a couple you know at church who is in the throes of infertility, whose hearts are broken but who can’t share that even with close friends? How does he he tell you that he had to spend time alone praying for a friend who confessed sexual infidelity, praying that he will listen to the Spirit and come clean to his wife? How can you tell them that you sat and agonized over how to confront someone in love about their sin that you know about? Or that you thought and prayed and talked all morning about how to help the congregation see that a person’s sin is always forgivable?

 

How can you tell them that you spent 5 hours pouring over an email communication to the church so that it balanced speaking truth with not being a gossip? How do you justify chasing a Hebrew verb through the whole Old Testament to verify a nuance in the text, only to see at the end that you were wrong and it is not so nuanced after all?

 

How do you share with them that you spent the afternoon talking with a friend on the phone who everyone loves to listen to teach in Sunday School but admits to you that they aren’t sure Christ is more than a myth?  How can you share that someone reached out to you to say that they are secretly gay, and that they need someone to talk to because “the Church” (capital C) has too many pat answers and not enough real concern and care?

 

How can you share that you had to spend the day in prayer for your family who is struggling, and that you think it might be a spiritual attack of some sort because you’re trying to serve Christ? How can you share that you spent the day finding out about the effects of huffing bath salts on a person’s brain and how to get them help because someone in your congregation is doing it? How do you say that you prayed with a family whose teenage son is abusing drugs and harming himself? That you visited a congregant with a mental disorder in a treatment facility?

 

Heck, for that matter how can you say that you spent a few hours evangelizing to people within your congregation, who say all the right things but in reality don’t know Christ? 

 

I share a bunch of these not because I have experienced them all (I haven’t), but because I have a lot of friends in ministry and this is not out of the realm of a typical pastoral month.  I am grateful that it’s not a typical week!

 

What he can tell you about is the victories, the good stuff, and where people are rejoicing and celebrating. Sometimes that comes off like the world is rainbows and lollipops, but in reality there is plenty of that in ministry as well and he can share that because it is allowable. When someone trusts Christ he can share that. When a person overcomes addiction he might not be able to though, because that person doesn’t want it publicly known that they had addiction to begin with.

 

Here’s the bottom line: if you wonder what your pastor does, that’s a lot of it. And most of that he can’t share with you, because it would break confidentiality and harm the people he is trying to help. It would break relationships and bring destruction upon his ministry and harm to the kingdom of God. 

 

What’s more, if he is called to be a shepherd it is what he is meant to do.  Crazy as it sounds, even in the hard times he is driven to help people see God and live for Him, to experience grace and mercy and righteousness.  It’s hard work, and much of it is confidential work, so pray for your pastor. Realize that he’s not just sitting at home all week watching I Love Lucy reruns, but that a lot of his life is off limits not because you’re not worthy of it but because he just can’t share. And be grateful for his ministry.

 

To be explicit, I am not writing this to my church family as a passive-aggressive way of asking them to have sympathy on me or to pat me on the back, but for the readers of ABF who don’t really know what a pastor does in their congregation.

 

So how about you? What do you think your pastor does in a typical month? Do you think it’s a hard job or a fun one?