Gun Control and Meaningful Discussions

wolvesIf you expect me to get into the fray on Gun Control and the 2nd Amendment from a biblical basis here on ABF, allow me to disabuse you of that notion forthwith. I do that in other places and definitely have my biases, but this post is not about who is right and who is wrong in that particular discussion. Rather, the thing that impresses me the most as I watch people on both sides of the issue is how both sides talk past each other so much and how much caricature and misunderstanding goes on.

In this particular issue, among Christians I see those who believe in gun control often saying  that those who are 2nd Amendment supporters are more interested in their guns than about the Great Commission or Jesus’ admonition to love. In return, the gun rights folks call the gun control proponents sheep and communists who hate the Constitution and freedom.

Why the rancor? It is because each has their own particular worldview, and that worldview colors the issue to such an extent that they can’t really comprehend the other side. They are so convinced that they are right that they are convinced that anyone who doesn’t see the issue their way is clearly non compos mentis. Because they are so set, there is really no way to dialog about the issue with others of a different stripe.

This is why, in my opinion, so many issues have become so polarizing and so emotional in America today. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have made expressing unprocessed emotions and ideas much easier and much farther reaching. For instance, I know people with 2,000 friends on Facebook. 20 years ago if they wanted to express an opinion to that many people it would have taken a significant investment in mailing letters or making phone calls. In that time my friend could have cooled off and thought through their ideas before publication. Now, though, with a couple of presses of their smartphone they put it out there for the world to see and share and comment on.

What’s the answer? In my opinion, it starts with having a meaningful clash. (this is a known topic in logic and debate and is not original to me, but I can’t find a good link…) A meaningful clash can only come when both sides of a discussion begin with areas of agreement and from there move on to areas of disagreement. If we do not start with areas of agreement we talk past each other and can’t have a meaningful discussion.

Perhaps an example can help. Let’s say that Bob, an atheist, believes that same sex marriage should be legal. Jim, on the other hand, believes that since the Bible forbids same-sex relations that it should be illegal. Bob does not believe that the Bible should be normative for relationships today. If Jim argues that God said same sex marriage is wrong so it is wrong, then he and Bob aren’t starting from areas of agreement and therefore they can’t have a meaningful clash.

This issue of gun control and the 2nd Amendment is the same. Gun rights advocates are arguing that modern sporting rifles protect the people against tyrannical government. Gun control advocates are arguing that assault rifles kill and maim and have no place in society. See how they talk past each other? There can be no meaningful clash of ideas because there are no meaningful areas of agreement.

But are there? Yes, there are. In this issue, for instance, we can agree that our main concern is safety. Both the NRA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns are interested in safety! They are interested in protecting the American people, and that is laudable and good. Now certainly they disagree on the best approach to accomplish that goal, but the goal is the same! Certainly the people arguing for gun control say that their goal is safe kids in schools and homes and malls. Gun rights advocates say that their desire to own guns is to keep their own family safe and to protect the republic from despotism. See how the desire is the same, just from a different angle?

How much better would this debate be if Wayne LaPierre would meet with President Obama and Ted Nugent and Michael Bloomberg and tell them all how grateful he is that they are concerned with the safety of our nation. Imagine how little rancor there would be if they listened to why they feel the way they do and affirmed their common desire for safety for our nation and its people. I have 4 kids in public schools, and regardless of what side I am on, my goal is for them to get a good education in a free and safe environment! That’s the same goal as everyone else in this discussion.

Take the singular issue away and the idea remains. In the church, take gender issues in ministry. What if we began from the common ground that we all want to honor God and help people use their spiritual giftedness in God-honoring ways? In society, what if we re-framed the immigration debate by realizing that our goal is to keep our nation free and prosperous, with liberty and justice for all? What if we began the abortion debate by realizing that our desire is to honor the foundational American governing principle of the sovereignty of a person over themselves? (and yes, this is an area of agreement…more another day perhaps)

So before having a debate on gun rights, find the place of agreement. In the gun control debate, it’s the safety, security, and prosperity of our nation. Gun control advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is to limit access to firearms to prevent Sandy Hook from reoccurring. Gun rights advocates think that the best way to accomplish that is by allowing more good guys to have tools available and on-hand to combat bad guys when events occur. It’s the method, not the goal, that is different, so instead of hurling invectives across the impassable chasm between us it seems to be a far better method to get on the same side of the chasm and make the problem the enemy rather than the people who are looking for solutions to the problem!

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?

 

Use Your Shout Outs!

I love the TV game show “Cash Cab.” In this show Ben Bailey asks people trivia questions while taking them to their destination in his cab, and part of the game is that they have two “shout outs” that they can use to ask for help.  One is a phone call that they can make to anyone they know, and the other is a chance to pull over in New York City and ask a helpful stranger for the answer they need.  So many times people forget to use their shout outs! Even though the host reminds them, they forget and for some it costs them the game.

 

How often do we think that we have to be the solution to the problems around us? And even more, how often do we shoulder burdens that are way too heavy for us to carry because we think that we have to be able to help everyone solve their problems.

 

Maybe you’ve not struggled with this as much as I have, but I know that it runs wild in the pastoral community. Most pastors don’t go into ministry because they feel a deep longing to be underpaid and overworked; if that was their aim, they would enlist in the military or work in retail! (both of which I have done, FWIW) Most pastors aren’t egomaniacs looking to wield power over people or mama’s boys who want everyone to like them.  No, most pastors go into vocational ministry because they love Christ and love people and want to help people know and love Christ like they do.  They’ve seen the transforming power of God in their own life and want to share with others the grace they’ve received.

 

The problem that many pastors run into, and that many loving Christians who aren’t pastors share, is that in our desire to love one another and help people see Christ we try to offer answers that we don’t have and help that we don’t have the ability to give!  And when we do that, I always get a flashback to the only Tom Cruise movie that is worth watching:

 

 

I can just picture God looking at us and saying, “Son, your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash!”  I see this all the time, and have run across it in my own life rather pointedly. 

 

  • I have students and church friends who have friends struggling with self-harm, and come to me asking for advice on how to help their friend stop.
  • I know people whose family is making poor decisions and have been asked how to help them change.
  • I’ve been asked how to open the door for someone to change and not be angry with God anymore.
  • I’ve seen people struggle with personal past issues that spill over into current relationships and have both personally desired to help them have healing and had others ask me how to help them get back on track.
  • Recently someone laid their finances out for me and asked me how to overcome their family swindling them out of their retirement and their income.
  • I had a friend come and complain about their church and how broken the church is, and in frustration ask how to start a better one.

 

This past year, God has really, really shown me the folly of thinking that as a shepherd, friend, pastor, professor, etc. that I can fill all of these needs in someone’s life.  That’s a lesson He tells us all in 1 Corinthians 12!

 

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, ESV)

 

God never said that He gave one person all of the manifestations of the Spirit, but that He has given each one a manifestation or gifting to serve the body of Christ.  And that means that we can only do that which we are called and equipped and able to do.  To do more is working out of our area and is terrible not only on them but on us as well! In 1 Cor 12 Paul goes on to talk about the church using an analogy to our bodies, with different organs serving different functions.  Lungs don’t digest well; think about the last time you inhaled a drink of water or a bite of food and how that worked out for you!

 

Likewise, in the body of Christ when we try to do that for which we are ill-equipped it harms us and the body. 

 

Let me put a fine point on this.  Lately especially I have seen people trying to carry burdens for others that they just can’t carry.  I have done it myself, so I am not pointing the finger! Instead of carrying that burden or trying to be someone’s Savior, love them, support them, and give them a strong nudge to get the help they need from a part of the body that can help them. 

 

  • I told my friend with financial distress to go talk to our Crown teacher at church and a CFP that I know.  They know finances and can help!
  • For many of us, a good and helpful start is to encourage our friends to go talk to their pastor about their spiritual, emotional, and relational struggles. They at least have SOME training in helping in these areas, so encourage others to get help!
  • Pastors need to recognize their limits as well, and not try to be counselors or psychologists.  I have learned the hard way that it is far better to encourage someone to seek out better help than to try to muddle through with my limited abilities. And I thank God for the men and women who are professionals in the field of behavioral health who can offer assistance I can’t!

 

So do yourself and your friends and family a favor and use the “shout outs” that God has placed in your life! Be a good help, but don’t try to be everything.

 

How about you? Have you had to use a “shout out” recently? How has that gone?

The Next Step

“Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1, NAS)

 
I love these words of Paul’s.  I am studying the New Testament with my students at Arizona Christian University, and yesterday we dug into 1 Thessalonians.  The tone of this letter is so much different than his tone in Galatians.  He was flat out mad at the Galatians for their legalism, but it seems that the Thessalonians were doing a great job.  They were pleasing God and walking with Him well.  They had it going on!  I just imagine them thinking that compared to many other churches (the Galatians and Corinthians come to mind), they were awesome and could just keep at what they were doing.
 
So what was Paul’s response? “Excel still more.”  He didn’t want them to rest on their laurels or read their own press clippings.  They thought that they were on the mountain top, but to Paul they were at base camp!  He was pleased with their progress but not content with their situation.  There was still more work to do if they were going to be everything that God wanted them to be.
 
I’m trying to do this in my walk with God as well as in my other areas of life.  I have run 3 half-marathons in the past year, which is great.  But now it’s time to “excel still more.”  So between now and June I will lose 15 pounds and on June 5th plan to run my first FULL marathon. (pray for me…it appears I have lost my mind!)  Our church is doing well in so many areas, but now it is time for me to “excel still more” in leading our staff, empowering our ministry leaders, and building authentic relationships with more people in our congregation.   I made some changes to my classes at ACU and Phoenix Seminary this semester too, so time will tell if they make the classes better.
 
How can you “excel still more”?
 

  1. In your walk with Christ.  What one area do you think that God wants you to change today to be more like Him?  How can you take a strength of yours in your walk with God and make it even stronger?
  2. In your relationships. Is your marriage good?  Your parenting?  Your friendships?  Where are you meeting standards, but want to change that “C” into an “A”?  What is one step you can take today to move in that direction?
  3. In your vocation. If you’re good at your job, what separates you from being great at it?  Would 10% more focused effort lead to 25% more success?  Can you be more agreeable to coworkers, or easier to lead as a team member?  Can you be a better model for those you supervise?
  4. In your finances. If your most successful friend from a financial standpoint looked over your finances, where would they say that you could make some changes to strengthen your giving, your saving, or your spending?

Doing good enough, in God’s eyes, is…well…not good enough.  Where can you “excel still more” today to the glory of God?

Happy Father’s Day!

To all of the dads out there who read ABF, I wish you a Happy Father’s Day!  I hope you get a large hunk of beef critter, place it near open flame until it is appropriately flame-seared (which would be medium-rare for the record), and then get to enjoy it thoroughly with your family.  Soon enough I will be doing just that!

I was reminded this week in my study of 2 Timothy 1:1-10 that God’s definition of a dad and ours doesn’t always match up.  I am also reminded that this is a very, very good thing!  Allow me to explain.  First, Paul thinks of Timothy as his son:

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved son: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. ” (2 Timothy 1:1–2)

Paul calls Timothy his “beloved son” in 2 Tim 1:2.  We know from 1 Corinthians 4:17 and Philippians 2:19-24 that Paul and Timothy were very close friends and ministry companions; we also know from Acts 16:1 that when Paul met Timothy that he was already a believer in Christ and an adult.  So Paul is not biologically related to Timothy!  Nevertheless, they were so close that Paul considered him a son.

So God’s definition of a father is not always the world’s definition.  Whereas the world says that a father is the man who gives us our genetic code, God says that a father is a man who cares for us, encourages us, leads us, and provides us an example of godliness regardless of genetic links between us.  The biblical definition of a dad does not require blood relation, but care and love and commitment. 

I am really grateful for this.  The man who donated his genes to me is a stranger to me.  He and my mom divorced when I was a baby, and I haven’t seen or heard from him since my 5th birthday.  I was in a position to be a statistic (such as the fact that about 85% of men in prison effectively have no father), but in my case I was never without a father figure who could provide that example for me.  We lived with my grandparents when I was little, so my grandpa provided a great example of dad for me.  My uncle filled a need for a loving man in my life for a long time.  And then in the best example, my mom married a wonderful man when I was six who actually adopted me as his own and even gave me his last name! 

This is God’s true picture of fatherhood; it’s more about adoption than it is about flesh and blood.  We all begin life alienated from God and hostile to Him (Colossians 1:21).  However, when we trust Christ we are adopted by God as His children (Galatians 4:5)!  He takes those who were not His children and adopts Him into His family (Ephesians 1:5), giving us a spirit and a position in His family by which we can call Him our Father (Romans 8:15).  God is our adopted Father who loves us unconditionally and gives us everything we could ever ask for as children.

What does that mean for us?  Well first of all, make sure you talk to your Heavenly Father today and thank Him for your adoption and for His love for you.  Take some time and thank the Lord for His care for you and love for you, bringing you into His family and blessing you with every blessing you have. 

Secondly, this understanding of biblical fatherhood really speaks to those of us who do not have great fathers here on earth.  Whether your “real” dad is a good example or not, you have been adopted into the family of the King!  Even when our earthly fathers fail us, our Heavenly Father never will.  And if your dad hasn’t been a great example, you can likely point to wonderful, godly men who have filled that role in your life and been sent from God to help you live for Him.

Finally, if you haven’t found a man who can be this in your life, rest in God today that He loves you unconditionally, and also rest in the truth that He wants you to have a man in your life who you can relate to as father.  Then set about finding that man so you can have an earthly relationship that mirrors your heavenly one.

Happy Father’s Day, dad!  Also, a Happy Father’s Day to some other men who have been fathers to me:  Grandpa Bob, Uncle Jeff, Dr. F. Olden Pittman, and Dr. Fred Chay.  I appreciate you men more than you know.