Want to be inspired?

Too many people today are frustrated by the injustice and evil in our world, and all too often are resigned to defeat, because the opposition seems to big, too powerful, too pervasive to fight.  Attempts to resist seem futile at best, and more often than not, appear to only offer personal pain and persecution.  So we do nothing, except maybe complain.  All the while, we are aching on the inside, because somebody ought to do something!  Maybe that ache is more because our own lives seem pointless in the face of the real things that matter–the bigger battle of good vs. evil, justice vs. brutality–yet we can’t seem to muster the courage to follow our passion into our purpose.

I was blessed in my years living in Alaska to have a friend, and a mentor, who was also a storyteller.  He often shared with me the stories he was working on, while we met each week to share coffee and life together, helping one another (ok, mostly him helping me) navigate our own stories.  Over the past year, Rick shared with me the most amazing story that he was living, while preparing to write his latest book.  Late night satellite phone conversations to interview guerrilla leaders hiding in the jungles on the other side of the world, researching exotic languages and the history of a country where people lived the most austere lives, fighting against nature and an oppressive government to liberate a nation–the things that young (and old) boys’ fantasies are made of!  Rick was preparing to tell the story of a man who did what he was made to do, and in the process has provided relief to over 1 million people engaged in a brutal struggle against evil in a place most of us can’t even find on a map.

I just finished the product.  In “Rangers in the Gap: Act with Courage. Never Surrender”, Rick tells the story of Dave Eubanks, a child of missionaries who becomes a successful US Army Special Forces officer, but finds his real purpose in life as the founder of the Free Burma Rangers.  Dave, and his teams are leading what might possibly the most radical, unconventional guerrilla campaign in history.  Against impossible odds, what began as one man has become 260 teams, defending the displaced ethnic people groups being ravaged in Myanmar (Burma), while simultaneously fighting a war against evil itself, using the only weapon that will defeat it.

I’d encourage you to download the Kindle book linked above to get the full story.  If you can’t, at least check out the Free Burma Rangers web page.   The story is inspiring.  Hopefully it’s inspiring enough to challenge each one of us to step into the role we were each given, to make a real difference in the world around us.


With fear and trembling…

I’ve been preparing to write this post for months, and putting it off for the last several weeks.  Truthfully, I don’t want to write it, because I’m actually expecting a lot more backlash and disapproval than I expected (but surprisingly, didn’t get) from my most-read post:  “The Post That May Just Offend Everybody.”  But I’ve been alluding to writing about this for some time, and have done a lot of research in preparation, in hopes that I can present a clear, detailed perspective that just might clarify one of the biggest issues facing our nation right now.  That, and I think this is one of those ones that God told me to write (OK, truthfully I know God leads me to write all of these, but this one seems to be one he won’t let up on).  So, with that ominous introduction, I will attempt to share my understanding and position on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). (1)

Bear with me on this one, I beg.  I know it’s all over the news, but I’m hoping I can provide some reasonable perspective.  I won’t claim to be totally objective, or unbiased, because I’m not.  I’m getting kind of passionate about the topic of health care reform.  What I hope to do, though, is to be clear what my biases are (as I understand them), as well as trying to address other perspectives as objectively as possible.  I’ll lay out my biases and motivations shortly, but my objective in tackling this controversial subject is to try to advance a reasonable dialog that might just provide an impetus to achieving real, productive improvement to our nation’s health care system.

I’m going to have to break this up over several posts, because it’s a complex subject, and trying to cover it in People magazine-style, let alone TV news sound bites, or Tweet-format, is not only impossible, but also a recipe for inaccuracy (see, for example, “you can keep your plan”).  Part of my reluctance to start has been simply that I wasn’t looking forward to all the disagreement, but I would hope that we can have a more reasoned discussion here, among friends, than is taking place in the media, or the halls of Congress.  The rest of delaying has been in trying to figure out how to organize this thing.  I’m probably going to tax WordPress.com’s publishing capabilities (I’m certainly going to exceed my abilities to use the site to organize a complex document), but I want to ensure that I provide good jumping off points for further research, or to at least demonstrate the due diligence I’ve performed in my research.  To that end, I’ll be posting a “bibliography” of sorts.  I’ll try to link to specific sources for statistics or quotes I reference.  I’m also going to provide my definition the problem as I understand it.  I will describe several possible approaches to solving the problem, and how those approaches are incorporated within the ACA.  Either embedded in that discussion, or separately (depending how all this comes together for organization purposes and readability) I’ll identify what I see as the strengths and the shortcomings of ACA.  Finally, I hope to talk about what I believe is the best path forward.  Somewhere in all that, I’m going to try to tackle a lot of the misperceptions that are out there today.

I mentioned earlier that I’m biased, and indeed passionate about the topic of  health care reform.  I guess the passion comes from the fact that I used to be pretty strongly biased against anything that smacked of government assistance.  I wrote papers in my undergrad days decrying the need to provide health care, unemployment, welfare, or any other type of handout.  I’m guessing my old Econ professor has probably departed this earth by now, but if he hasn’t, and were to read this today, he’d probably be dead from shock before he finished.  At one point, while acknowledging that the welfare system had become a multi-generational issue, I went so far as to advocate for systematically and forcefully removing all children from these dysfunctional welfare homes in order to break the generational cycle (one of the reasons I don’t get too excited about what any public figure over the age of 40 wrote, studied, or read while in college!).  As the saying goes, though, there’s nothing worse than a reformed smoker, or in this case, reformed ultra-conservative.  I believe that in the richest country in the world, that spends more per capita on health care than any other nation in the world, that people should not be impoverished because of catastrophic health issues, nor should they be forced to go forego necessary treatment because they can’t afford it.

So what happened to bring about this radical change in my thinking?  Several things.  First, somewhere along the way, I figured out that I had been the beneficiary of blind luck (ok, I don’t believe in luck, but providence gave me something that I never once sought or planned for).  I have had (virtually) free health care for all of my adult life, courtesy of the US government.  Even when I retired from the military, my annual expenditures for health care for my entire family, including annual premiums, co-pays, etc, was less than the monthly premium most people paid for private sector health insurance, not even considering deductibles, co-pays, and other out-of-pocket expenditures.  I wasn’t some genius who planned out how to achieve this level of health care security; I just joined the Army to jump out of airplanes.  Free health care came with the package–not that it meant anything to me when I signed the contract.

But my free government health care alone wasn’t enough to reform me; for many years my mantra was that I earned it through my service.  What really started me doubting my convictions that anybody could pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, was when I started discovering friends who had worked way harder than I had, and were much stronger than me, whose bootstraps had broken.  I have a friend who owned a construction company, who literally built million dollar homes.  His work was amazing, and his business skills were quite good, but he lived in a rented duplex, and couldn’t afford health insurance for his family.  He wrenched his shoulder one day helping me get my snowmachine unstuck, and still has problems many years later, because he never went to the doctor to get the damage repaired.  He couldn’t afford it.  He eventually had to shutter his business, and go to work at a large company that offered benefits, just to take care of his family’s health needs.  I have another friend who is an amazing mechanic, and worked for many years on military vehicles as a civilian contractor.  Bouts with cancer and other medical issues, even with employer-provided medical insurance, bankrupted him, and continues to wreak havoc with his finances.  I just recently discovered that since he was medically retired, he no longer has the insurance he needs to pay for his liver transplant, and has been removed from the list.  Neither one of these guys were welfare bums; heck, they work harder than I do!  They are both smart, talented, and hardworking; they just ended up on a different life path than me; not through destructive choices, but because they decided to open their own business, in one case, or contracted some nasty disease in the other.

The final straw was when I started studying Christianity–that belief system that I have devoted my life to trying to live by.  The Bible says that man is created in the image of God; that all human life has intrinsic value.  Jesus didn’t give us the option to pick and choose who we would love or show Christian charity to; in fact in response to a religious legalist, who was looking for justification that he was loving his neighbor, and thereby obeying God and earning eternal life, Jesus told a health care parable.  Around the same time I was confronted with my own hypocrisy, the health care reform debate was going on in earnest, and I’d started blogging.  I wanted to engage in the discussion, but I wanted to do so from an informed position, so I started researching the issue, and writing about it.  (If you click on the “Health Care” category in the right column, you’ll get a list of posts I wrote starting back in 2009 on this topic, before ACA became law).  The more research I did, the more I discovered that our health care system in our country isn’t getting the job done, and lives are lost, and ruined, because of it.

Jesus said that I’m supposed to care for “the least of these,” and through his life and teaching demonstrated that I don’t get to pick and choose who is worthy of my love and my care.  I don’t get to decide who doesn’t deserve adequate health care because they don’t meet my expectations of supporting themselves, or because they had too many babies, or whatever other reason I find for them to be unworthy.  The Bible is VERY clear that judging others is outside my scope.  I’m just supposed to love them.  That doesn’t mean think fuzzy puppy thoughts about them, that means meet their needs.  Jesus was in the healing business.  Unfortunately, too many folks in the US think us Pentecostals are crackpots, so although the same healing power that Jesus used is available to his followers today (see John 14:11-14, despite the desperately twisted hermeneutics John MacArthur and his friends try to employ to deny it), until such time as more Christians of this country are all filled with the Holy Spirit, we’re going to have to go to plan B or plan C.

More on those in the next installment.


1.  The Affordable Care Act is the name for the 2010 legislation commonly (and derisively) referred to as “ObamaCare”.  I’m going to refrain from using that term, and instead stick to “ACA,” to try to take some of the venom out of the discussion. 

Where Does Religion Belong?

Many of the leading issues in our country today have a significant moral or ethical element to them that invariably introduces a religious perspective into the conversation:  Gay marriage, abortion, and the death penalty all are heavily influenced by religious perspective in their public debate.  Even issues that are not so directly linked to basic freedoms can have religious elements to their debate–welfare, health care, and fiscal policy issues have all seen either overt religious reasoning applied to them, or more subtle attempts to sway the argument by appealing to moral and ethical factors formed by religious beliefs.

Several responses to “The Post That May Just Offend Everybody | My Thoughts on the Gay Marriage Issue” included a common theme that the respondent was perfectly willing to tolerate another person’s religious beliefs, so long as that person kept their beliefs private, and did not bring them into the public square.  I submit to you that this is an impossible, and I will go so far to even claim intolerant request.

I am too far removed from my undergrad days to recall the precise linear relationship of values, morals, ethics, beliefs, etc, but I do know that all of those have some root in each individual’s religious beliefs (even if those beliefs are to discount or even deny religion).  To ask a person to participate in the public square without applying their religious beliefs to their involvement seems to me to be akin to asking an accountant to do his job without applying arithmetic.  He can’t fathom doing it, and in reality all of the higher level governing elements of accounting are all foundational to the basic precept that 1+1=2, every time  (I’m sure this analogy has a hole in it somewhere in the fundamental differences between arithmetic and religion, but suffer me the comparison for the sake of discussion).

Where does this idea that people should leave their religious beliefs at home when participating in society (or at least in public debate of societal or governmental issues) come from?  I’ve done a little reading, and there’s no simple answer, but I submit that most in the US today will point back to the First Amendment religion clause and the “wall of separation between church and state” concept first described by Thomas Jefferson.  I think the important distinction that may be getting lost over time is that the intent of our founding fathers, and even Jefferson in his letter first describing the “wall of separation” was to avoid the government establishment of, or preferential treatment to, any particular religion.

Os Guinness has written a phenomenal book that addresses this topic and the context which raised it, called The Case for Civility, And Why Our Future Depends on It.  I won’t attempt to cover all the key points in this book that pertain to this topic, as I’d almost be recreating the book.  Guinness gives name to two concepts that are relevant to this conversation:  the “Sacred Public Square” and the “Naked Public Square.”  The “Sacred Public Square” refers to the idea that government should establish a particular religion as preferred–that very concept that our founding fathers sought to, and succeeded in prohibiting.*  The “Naked Public Square” refers to the idea that public interaction should exclude any consideration of religious thinking or beliefs.

I do not advocate in any way for the concept of the “Sacred Public Square.”  Without spending a lot of time here, I cannot submit to a government that forces me to ascribe to a faith system different from my own, so by that precept, I could only accept living in a Christian theocracy.  The problem with that is that so long as we remain a democratic nation (which I am strongly in favor, of, and dedicated much of my adult life to ensuring), I run the risk of some other religious system assuming control and running the government according to their religious principles.  Therefore, it is best for me (and I submit, for people of all faiths) to oppose the government establishment of any religion.

I also  can’t advocate for the “Naked Public Square.”  In the US today, this desire for a “Naked Public Square” has manifested itself primarily in the desire to exclude Christian beliefs, as, let’s face it, that is the primary religious belief system in play in our nation today, although the attempt to exclude Muslim beliefs is rising, primarily in more conservative circles.  No one talks too much about systematically excluding Hindu or naturalist thought, because given their relative representation in the US, they aren’t a real threat to attempt to influence our lives today.   In its most extreme, calls for the “Naked Public Square” include voices such as Sam Harris, who in his book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason states “We can no more tolerate a diversity of religious beliefs than a diversity of beliefs about epidemiology and basic hygiene.”  I don’t believe for a minute that most Americans ascribe to the extremes advocated by Harris, but extreme voices like his dominate his side of the argument, much as extreme voices from the right tend to dominate the argument of the opposite side.

Part of the reason that the extreme voice dominates the religious side of the argument in America today is that many Christians have believed the “Naked Square’s” basic assertion that we should keep our religious beliefs in our churches and homes, but we shouldn’t take them out in public.  For much of the twentieth century Christians dutifully (or timidly) avoided displaying our religious beliefs in the public square, in what I believe was a well-intentioned attempt to allow for pluralism and diversity.  However, in the process we removed a reasonable Christian voice from the stage of public life.  I am borrowing Guinness’s distinction here to try to demonstrate that there is a difference between the “public square” where we collectively go about the business of establishing the rules of how society lives together, and “public life,” where individuals go about their lives interacting with others under those rules.  In other words, I interpret the distinction this way:  The public square is the structures where we as a society interact (government, the marketplace, etc); public life is how the individual interacts in the public square.   Guinness states that “There is a broad overlap, with no exact boundaries, between the public square and public life.”  Nonetheless, there is an important distinction that has been lost, and in an effort to avoid a “Sacred Public Square,” Christians (often at the encouragement of non-Christians) have withdrawn our voice not only from the public square, but from public life.

An unfortunate byproduct of the absence of a broad, moderate Christian voice in public life was that we allowed beliefs contrary to Christian beliefs to roam the public square unchallenged.  The absence of checks and balances permitted the growth and normalization of beliefs that contrasted with Christianity, and while moderate Christians became increasingly uncomfortable, the more extreme voices spoke up, and started trying to “reclaim” the public square.  The problem is, in my eyes, that the voices that are dominating the counterpoint are often too strident, and more importantly, they are approaching the problem not by participating in the public square in a way in which their beliefs influence the square, but instead they are trying to control the public square by legislating Christian beliefs.

I don’t think I must leave my Christian beliefs at home when I come to the public square in order to influence the governing of our society, and the functioning of our economy, any more than I believe I can tell a Muslim to leave his beliefs at home.  Where either of us go wrong is when we attempt to control the public square and enforce our religious beliefs.**

To avoid the risk of trying to re-write Guinness’s book in my own words, I’m going to let him close this post, in his words, in what I assert is an excellent answer for all of us to the question “Where does Religion Belong?”:

“…we should be clear that it is playing with fire to begin to argue in the public square about whether different faiths are true–because of the very seriousness of truth.  Nothing is more precious and potent than truth, but nothing is more dangerous than to debate such argument in the public square…. I am not arguing that faith should be ‘privileged,’ as if it requires kid-gloves discussion for fear of causing offense…. Truth and tough-minded debates about truth are the oxygen of a free society…. The politics of ‘no offense’ is a recipe for cowardice and appeasement.  Atheists [and those of other faiths] have every right to speak out, to argue for, and to attack whatever they choose.  The question for them is whether their arguments are good arguments….

“That said, in wise societies where the link between freedom and civility is respected, the public square is not the wisest place to examine the truth claims of different faiths.  Certainly it can and should be done in the private sphere with no holds barred, and certainly, too, in public life, if done with greater care.  But the public square is the place where the roots of faith are generally best left unspoken, and what is discussed are the results of faith–their implications for public policy and the common life of all citizens. 

“In short, my opening answer… is to call for civility first–to establish a civil public square, within which we may all learn to respect our deepest differences and discuss them robustly but civilly and peacefully–and then in the appropriate setting, human being to human being, to explore the reasons for why we believe and all that it means [with respect to public policy and the common life of all citizens that he refers to previously].”  –(Bold and underlined emphases are mine, italics are the original author’s; bracketed comments are mine)

My religious beliefs are my source of truth–they’re part of who I am.  Your source of truth, whatever it might be, is essential to who you are.  You can’t leave it out of living your life, even if you wanted to.  To say that you do is intellectually dishonest.   Bring your truth; let the implications of our varying understandings of truth influence our discussion as human beings over “public policy and the common life of all citizens.”  Beyond that, in the boundaries of civil society, let’s debate our differing sources of truth (not in the public square, but here and in other places of public life) to test our beliefs of truth, and to understand the beliefs of others.  Understanding those beliefs, whether or not we choose to ascribe accuracy to them, is crucial to our effectiveness in maintaining civil society.


*I acknowledge that our founding fathers were essentially writing to preclude establishment of a particular Christian denomination, and that they themselves were predominantly Christians, or at least aligned with Christian theology, rather than Islam, Hinduism, or some other naturalist theology.  That said, I do not want to debate whether or not the US was established as a “Christian nation.”  Most considerate people should be able to acknowledge that the religious practices of our nation’s original citizens were predominantly Christian, and that the national government was built on a foundation of “Christian” ethics (not that they are exclusively Christian, but their origins are from the Christian faith–because that’s where our founders derived their ethics). 

To my Christian brethren who want to insist on a foundation as a Christian nation that we must somehow return to, complete with government-sanctioned public prayer and religious observances, I strongly encourage you to  consider the fact that we are a very pluralistic society, and that it’s not unreasonable to think that although those prayers and observances might be focused on the Christian God today, they may one day soon be oriented toward a god that Christians would NOT want to pray to or publicly recognize.  More on that thought in my post “Hawaii Senate ends daily prayer in chamber.”

**This distinction is vital, and yet I’m not sure if I made it clearly.  My values will always effect my interaction in the public square, and in public life, by definition of the word values.  If I believe something is wrong I have every right to advocate vociferously against it, within the bounds of the rules of the public square, just as my Muslim brother does.  But my argument should not prevail solely because it is Christian, and it shouldn’t impose Christian practices upon others.  It’s when influence becomes control that we have crossed the line into the “Sacred Public Square.”


Shocked. Stunned. Dumbstruck.

Tuesday night I sat down and posted some very deep thoughts on my sleepy little blog page, with the expectation that I was going to spark a little thought and conversation amongst the handful of people who read my stuff, primarily my Facebook friends.  Prior to that post, I had 590 views over several YEARS, and most of those coming from a Twitter bump I received while attending a Compassion Conference a few years ago.

In the first 24 hours since that post, my site had 2800 views!  That blew me away.  Today I’ve had almost 5000.   From over 15 different countries, on every continent except Antarctica.

For one of the few times in my life, I don’t know what to say.  Hence the title:  gobsmacked.  This awesome word can’t be fully appreciated unless you hear it first from a Scotsman.  I had never heard it in my life, but when a co-worker used it in a conversation 6 years ago, I immediately knew what it meant–stunned beyond the ability to speak, or even think.  I think it’s one of the greatest words in the English language, and it is definitely the most appropriate to describe my response to the way my last post took off.

One more word describes my reaction to this amazing response to my posts:  Humbled.

I am incredibly thankful to all of you for taking the time to read and consider what I had to say, and for so many of you–friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers–who thought my words were worthy of sharing.  Pretty much all of the traffic came from Facebook shares.  That’s cool, because I’m a big believer in relationships; however, I’m bummed because I missed out on much of the conversation.

I have, however, received quite a bit of feedback, the vast majority supportive, from people on both sides of the discussion!  That is really cool!  I have to say that I didn’t expect that; I figured those who supported gay marriage would take offense to me asserting that homosexual activity is sin, along with those who don’t believe in YHWH taking additional exception to my Christian perspectives.  I also expected many of my Christian friends to take exception to my assertion that we quit judging homosexuals, and focus on loving everyone.  To my surprise, and delight, even those who strongly disagree with things I have said did so with respect (for the most part).

All of this newfound attention to my writing has been tremendously humbling, and I’m greatly appreciative that each of you thought my message was worth sharing.  The attention has also introduced new challenges:

1) I have had to balance keeping the comments moderated with some degree of timeliness, while doing my day job.  My smartphone got a workout today!  But it was important to me to keep the conversation going.

2) I had to deal with my first really derogatory commenter today–I learned new features of the comment moderation tool… WordPress is pretty intuitive and useful, for any of you who are looking to start your own little worldwide conversations!

3) I now am faced with the challenge of determining the topic for future posts.  I don’t want this to become a “gay marriage debate” blog, or a “Christian doctrine or polity” blog, or a “Greg” blog…  If you took the time to look back on any of my posts, I hope you saw that I try to discuss things that seem relevant to me (at the Holy Spirit’s leading), but I don’t want to preach at those who don’t follow Jesus, because you can find that lots of places.  I want it to be a place to engage each other, to exchange ideas, to consider the perspective of others, not so one can shout down one’s opponents, but instead to seek to understand, even if we respectfully disagree.

Right now, I don’t have a new topic, so I’ll leave you with this:

Thanks.  And God bless you all.  Feel free to check back whenever; my 15 minutes of fame has lasted for almost 48 hours now, but if you want to hang out, talk, ask challenging questions in a respectful manner, then I’ll be here.  If you never make it back, thanks for listening.  You made my day!


The Post That May Just Offend Everybody

or, My Thoughts on the Gay Marriage Issue

If you think you know me, and know where this is going, let me challenge you–you’re probably wrong.  Whether you think you’re going to agree with me, or think you can just stop reading, because you know you’re going to disagree with me, I ask that you read on, as I’m betting you’re going to be surprised.  I’m a little surprised myself.

To all that I offend:  my intent is not to hurt, or alienate, or disparage.  I’m not asking you to agree with me, or debate me, or dismiss me.  I just ask that you consider this; I wouldn’t have taken the time to write it, or 10 times that amount of time to consider it, if I didn’t think it were important–not because it’s my thoughts, but because it’s the results of what I believe God has been cultivating in my head over the past several years, and because he’s been pretty relentless in getting me to writing this down tonight, when I have a hundred excuses why I can’t.  Yes, this post is going to have a decidedly Christian slant (although some might strongly disagree).  Please don’t let that turn you off–just hear me out.

Now for the disclaimers:  I’m probably one of the most conservative, fundamental people I know.  Paul rattles off his qualification to be the ultimate Jew in Philippians 3:5-6.  Well, here’s my parallel list of qualification to be a poster-child for Fox-News watching, Tea-Party-supporting, NRA-member, super-conservative status:  Born in the Midwest, raised by two Christian parents who are still married to each other, for the first time; retired Army officer; big-oil employee; firearm owner (all of which are banned in CA); John Wayne posters and pictures THROUGHOUT my garage; and most recently, a certified Pentecostal pastor!  I can out-conservative the best our country has to offer, and have been able to clearly articulate the superiority of my conservative values my entire life.  But like Paul in the subsequent verses, I now consider all of that not just a loss, but sewage (that’s a nice way of translating what the NIV calls “garbage”).  Not because I’m better than that; because I’m most definitely not.  No, it’s because God’s been dragging me through a knothole in the process of trying to remake me in the image of his Son, and along the way, I’ve been confronted with the cognitive dissonance of my traditional beliefs vs. what the Bible says.

Based on my qualifications, one would expect me to be firmly on the far right, crying out against gay marriage.  I’m not.  In fact, I think the church in America really needs to re-examine itself here.  I’ve seen a lot of traffic on the internet for a long time now, and particularly in the past few days, with professing Christians crying out to God, their neighbors, and anyone who will listen on the internet to oppose this “attack on marriage.”  I’ve even read one church who posted a call for fervent prayer that God would not allow the Supreme Court to “destroy marriage.”  I’ve even seen some pretty hateful stuff said toward those who disagree with their position that marriage should be legally restricted to one man and one woman.  I think all of that is a mistake, and a failing of God’s people.

More on that in a minute.  Now that I’ve alienated all of my conservative Christian readers, let me make clear my position that I firmly believe that homosexual activity is a sin and an abomination to God.  I’m not going to make a vigorous defense of my position here; It is abundantly clear in the Bible.  In fact, those who try to refute the Biblical assertion that homosexual activity is a sin only do so through  interpretive gymnastics that would break Gumby’s back.  To be clear:  this post is in no way condoning a homosexual lifestyle.

Homosexual activity is a sin (now I’ve most assuredly alienated those who support gay marriage), but there are many other sins out there; unfortunately conservatives have chosen to make this one their litmus test and their Waterloo.  Adultery is a sin; so is prostitution, alcohol abuse, lying, cheating on your taxes, and judging others.  All of these are affronts to God, but somehow we’ve made homosexuality the Asherah pole of our society, and committed all of our Christian resources to defeating gay marriage, or dying on the hill in the fight.  So, what would Jesus do?  Well, the Gospels are silent as to Jesus’ position on homosexual activity, but that is because 1st Century Judaism had no questions–it was a sin and an affront to God.  It is almost a sure thing that the issue never came up.  But, we can look at how Jesus dealt with other examples of sin to extrapolate a good idea how he would have approached the issue of homosexuality:

  • Adultery:  Jesus interceded on behalf of the adulterous woman, telling the judgmental crowd to have the sinless among them cast the first stone.  He then tells her that he doesn’t condemn her either, but “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  (John 8:1-11)
  • Prostitution:  Luke 7:36-50 tells of Jesus not only associating with a prostitute (not to be confused with having sexual relations with her), but he forgives her sins.
  • Alcohol abuse:  In John 2, Jesus’ first recorded miracle of turning water into wine.  This was a Jewish wedding feast–a multi-day party, where the host was praised for not bringing out the Mogen David once the guests were too drunk to know the difference.  The norm was that the host banked on the guests getting tanked up early, and took advantage of it by serving the cheap stuff once they were drunk, to save money.  Jesus didn’t condemn them, he gave them world-class wine!
  • Lying:  My personal favorite is how Jesus treated one of his closest friends, who not only lied three times, but in doing so, denied any connection with Jesus.  Jesus didn’t exclude him, he sought him out, forgave him, and restored the relationship. (John 18:25-27; 21:15-19)
  • Cheating on your taxes:  Tax collectors of his day were the ultimate tax cheats, but Jesus befriended one and brought him into his inner circle (Matthew), and famously ate dinner with another (Zaccheus).
  • Judging others:  Ok, this one goes a little differently.  Jesus was famously intolerant of those who judged others, particularly those who saw themselves as somehow superior, or favored by God, because of their observance of religious laws.  Instead, he spoke highly of those who sacrificially loved their fellow man, even when they had all rights to judge them negatively based on how their fellow man had treated them. (Luke 10:30-37)  An in-depth study of the Gospels will reveal that the only group that Jesus judges, speaks harshly to, or condemns, is the religious leaders who judge (and condemn) others.

These examples demonstrate Jesus’ approach to those who commit sins:  He loves them.  That doesn’t mean that he condones their sinful acts!  But he definitely does not chastise them, condemn them (with the noted exception of judgmental religious leaders), and tell them to get away from him, clean up their act, and then he will talk to them.  And we don’t do that in church with almost any other sin:  Can you imagine how much more abysmal church attendance would be if we said “don’t come through those doors until  you’ve given up your (personal sin issues)”?  Sinners were drawn to Jesus, despite their sin, because of his unconditional love–and in the process of encountering him, they rejected their sin and worshipped God!

The Church hasn’t taken this approach.  We’re trying to outlaw sin!  That’s not going to work, as it’s outside of temporal government’s jurisdiction.  Although we are desperately trying to give government jurisdiction in spiritual matters.  “Greg, you’re nuts!  We’re doing the exact opposite! We’re trying to get government OUT of spiritual matters” you say?  Well, to keep this post smaller than a book, let me give one example that’s directly on point:  Marriage.  Many conservative voices are stating that a Supreme Court ruling in support of gay marriage will “destroy traditional marriage.”  Really?  How can that be?  See, somewhere along the line we lost sight of the fact that GOD defines Christian marriage, not the government.  Marriage licenses in America are nothing more than an acknowledgement of a civil union of two people.  If GOD defines Christian marriage, then guess what?  SCOTUS, POTUS, and all the other USes can’t redefine it.  The problem is, the Church has lost sight of the fact that IT is the agency on earth that acknowledges the unity of one man and one woman in HOLY matrimony.  Those who claim a favorable ruling for gay marriage will destroy “traditional marriage” have just given that power to the State–the State doesn’t have it unless the Church abdicates it.

Here’s the real issue:  whether our litmus test is gay marriage, prayer in schools, or even abortion (a topic for another time–let’s just summarize with “I abhor it; I can’t even imagine how God feels about it”), we’ve failed miserably by trying to legislate Christian values–and it’s kicked our butt.  Instead of trying to make followers of God by creating laws that legislate morality and virtuous behavior (sound a little bit like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day?), let’s take the radical, revolutionary approach modeled by Jesus:  Unconditionally love ALL mankind!  Matthew 5:14-16 tells Christians that we are the “light of the world.”  Jesus uses the analogies of a city on a hill, or a lamp in a dark room.  These are warm, inviting lights.  Too many Christians have interpreted this to be searing lasers that we focus on the cockroaches hiding in the corners.  Jesus says “let your light shine before (not on) men, that they may see your good deeds (not religious works) and praise your father in heaven.”  When Americans look at the church today, they don’t see good deeds and praise God, they see judgmentalism and hatred, and reject what we have to offer.  The Barna Group conducted a landmark study of American perceptions toward Christianity.  A believable, but distressing finding:  “Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is ‘anti-homosexual.’ Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity.”

Now you know where I stand–so what?  First, let me say that this is a difficult place for me to be; I don’t stand here self-righteously judging all you who don’t measure up to my lofty piousness.  To be frank, it’s difficult for me to not have a visceral negative reaction when I see displays of same-sex attraction…  That means it gives me the willies.  That’s my 40+ years of conservative conditioning kicking in, and it’s hard for my spirit to overcome that.  But Jesus doesn’t want me to make everyone into conservatives, he wants me to show the world His love, so they seek His Father.  So I’ve got to deal with it.  Part of the way I deal with the heavy stuff, particularly the things I struggle with myself, is to write them here.  Writing helps me think it through, and more importantly, I now have to live it, or allow others to call me on my hypocrisy.  Further, I’m hoping that my Christian brothers and sisters can see that we’ve done more harm than good by making gay marriage our Waterloo.  It’s not.  We’re majoring in minors.  Satan doesn’t have to try to defeat the Church, he’s just sitting back and laughing while we alternate between killing off ourselves, and alienating the world from us to the point that we no longer have influence.  I know Satan loses in the end; but we’re certainly not contributing to Jesus’ cause right now; furthermore, we’re failing miserably in obeying his command to “go and make disciples”–we’re making enemies.

For my friends who don’t follow Jesus:  I’m sorry for the hateful, judgmental way I have treated you, and treated homosexuals in particular.  God doesn’t hate homosexuals any more than he hates bigoted judgmental asses like me.  He hates the sins we commit–all of them, not just those selected by the Moral Majority for special emphasis.  So when I judge someone else for their sin, he’s hating that action of mine.  It’s not my business to judge, or even point out your sin.  God judged the sins of the WORLD (including mine) 2000 years ago on a cross in Jerusalem.  They’re all forgiven–EVERY one of them–but you have to go to Him to receive that forgiveness.  Even when we don’t recognize something as sinful, God can help us see how he sees things, in his timing–the world today argues that homosexual acts are acceptable; it’s not my place to judge the actions of others; He’ll deal with that person one-on-one.  If I’ve judged you, or made you feel unaccepted by me, or by God, then I’ve sinned, and I ask your forgiveness.  And I’ll apologize for my Christian brothers and sisters too.  We’ve gotten a bad reputation (and for the most part we’ve earned it), as portraying ourselves as somehow better than those who don’t follow Jesus–it’s seen as self-righteousness.  Speaking for my brothers and sisters, we’re all screwed up, and left to our own devices, we’re no better than the rest of the world.  We’re trying to be better,  and God is helping us to grow every day, but some of us have a LOT of growing to do (me being a prime example).  But sometimes we still try to control things, and we end up making a mess and hurting others by trying to be God, or at least help him out.

In the next few days, the Supreme Court is going to rule on two landmark cases which may redefine what secular government defines as marriage.  No matter which way they rule, the Kingdom of God is still at hand, God is still on the throne, and NOTHING that he defines can be harmed in the least bit by any earthly government.  So what the heck are us Christians all tweaked about?  Let’s get about the business of shining our light, and pouring out God’s GRACE through us onto mankind, rather than dispensing our judgment.

A man, overwhelmed by the inexhaustible grace of God manifested in his own life, cannot help but to reject his sin, and sprint into the unconditional love God offers him (while we he was still a sinner).  I know.  It happened to me.


So it seems in my random musings that I have at least two threads of thought started, both of which I promised to continue to develop in coming posts.  That said, I’m not thinking linear at all lately in any aspect of my life, so why should this place be any different.  My wife has picked up the analogy of traffic lights to describe her current state of being…  In that vein, my life, my thoughts, my world seems to be analogous to a traffic circle–I’m in it, I’m going around, but there’s no signs to mark the streets that branch off the circle, and I’m not sure what my destination is anyway.  (If I still haven’t convinced you, just look at the total disconnect from the previous posts, to the title of this post, to the totally unrelated analogy above).

My post today is nothing more than grabbing a quote from a book I’m reading:  Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  I’m only vaguely familiar with Bonhoeffer’s work, and have been wanting to read this biography for a couple of years now.  For those of you who, like me, don’t know much about him, here’s the short version:  Born around the turn of the 20th century to an elite German family; afforded the most privileged upbringing and education, this genius chose to pursue theology, wound up as an amazing scholar who also turned out to be a great pastor (an uncommon pairing), who lost his life as a result of his participation in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

I’m still early in the book; the excerpt below is from a lecture he delivered in his early 20s, to a high-school aged crowd on a Tuesday night (says something of his pastoral abilities to be able to get high-schoolers to church on a weeknight).

“One admires Christ according to aesthetic categories as an aesthetic genius, calls him the greatest ethicist; one admires his going to his death as a heroic sacrifice for his ideas. Only one thing one doesn’t do: one doesn’t take him seriously. That is, one doesn’t bring the center of his or her own life into contact with the claim of Christ to speak the revelation of God and to be that revelation. One maintains a distance between himself or herself and the word of Christ, and allows no serious encounter to take place. I can doubtless live with or without Jesus as a religious genius, as an ethicist, as a gentleman — just as, after all, I can also live without Plato and Kant…. Should, however, there be something in Christ that claims my life entirely with the full seriousness that here God himself speaks and if the word of God once became present only in Christ, then Christ has not only relative but absolute, urgent significance for me…. Understanding Christ means taking Christ seriously. Understanding this claim means taking seriously his absolute claim on our commitment. And it is now of importance for us to clarify the seriousness of this matter and to extricate Christ from the secularization process in which he has been incorporated since the Enlightenment.”

80 years ago Bonhoeffer spoke to something that has become even more significant today.  Too often I compartmentalize Christ.  I fail to acknowledge through my priorities, my thoughts, and my actions his “absolute claim” on me.  I was somewhat shocked to see him calling out the failing of the “Enlightenment” almost a century ago.  And this isn’t some uneducated religious rube; by the time of this particular writing, he’d already earned his doctorate (at 22), studying under some of the preeminent liberal theologians of the modern era.

I am more certain than ever that my first response inside the pearly gates will be “Forgive me for underestimating you so completely.”

“You Can’t Have Faith Without Doubt”–the back-story

“You can’t have faith without doubt.”

That statement ought to get you thinking.  I know it did me.  I first heard it from our senior pastor, when our little church was embarking on an incredibly optimistic faith journey a few years back.  I grew up with the impression that doubt was a bad thing; a sign of weakness, of a failure of faith.  How could I not think that, when the church had branded one of Jesus’s closest companions as “doubting Thomas”–a branding so successful that the term is used in popular culture even by those who probably couldn’t tell you who Thomas was, or what heinous act he committed to be viewed with such disdain.  So, when this wise older scholar made the statement, I had to take some time to consider the thought.

First, Thomas got a bad rap.  If you’re not familiar with it, Thomas’s story is told in John 20:19-29.  Unfortunately for most Christians, we’ve read and heard the story so many times that we don’t really read it anymore, we skim it, and jump straight to the anticipated ending, along with all the afore-learned stereotypes.  In studying up on doubt, I took time to really savor this story, reading it as if for the first time, trying to witness it as if I’d never heard it before.

I’m going to refrain from delving too deep into the political and cultural climate of the story; suffice it to say that a full understanding of the climate makes the story much more powerful.  The over-simplified version is this:  Jesus’s closest followers were gathered together on Sunday evening.  Jesus had been crucified three days earlier.  They were afraid for their lives, and had every reason to be.  There were a few in their group who were claiming that they’d seen Jesus alive earlier that day–but people just don’t come back to life after they die.  But then again, some of this very same group had witnessed Lazarus come back to life (at Jesus’s command, no less!) after he’d been dead for four days.

A worthwhile detour with respect to the character of Thomas:  In the story of Lazarus’s resurrection, Jesus declares that he’s going back to Judea to Lazarus’s family.  He’d left Judea earlier to escape the religious leaders who were out to kill him. His disciples (names aren’t given, but the plural is used, so one would assume this was a group consensus) try to dissuade him because people will try to kill him.  When Jesus makes it clear that his purpose is in Judea, Thomas is recorded as saying “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  Essentially, Thomas tells the group that he’s committed enough to Jesus that if Jesus is going to do something that will likely get him killed, so be it, Thomas will be right there with him.  Hardly the words one would expect from the weak-minded stereotypical Thomas many of us were taught.

Back to Easter Sunday–that evening, the disciples were hiding together in a locked room.  These are not courageous men of faith; they’re not expecting a resurrected Jesus (realistically, you only can understand his teachings about his resurrection in the Gospels once you know that he rose from the grave.  The disciples didn’t get it until after it had happened, and only fully comprehended it after years of living in the fullness of the Holy Spirit).  If anything, they’re expecting a knock on the door, or a crash at the door, from the Temple guards or the Roman centurions, taking them all to their own cross.  Suddenly, in their midst (without anyone opening the door), Jesus appears and greets them.

Verse 20 has to be one of the most ignored verses in Scripture.  “After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”  I’m reading a little into the text based solely on the sequencing of the phrasing, but I’m guessing that if they were convinced he was the Lord as soon as he appeared, there would have been little need for him to show his scars.  I read this passage to indicate that he showed him his hands and side, then the disciples were overjoyed, because they then saw the Lord.   Even if my interpretation is inaccurate, the wording clearly indicates that Jesus showed his scars.

In verse 24, Thomas shows up (there has been much speculation throughout history has to why Thomas wasn’t there–most of it seems to be influenced by the underserved slam on his character.  Scripture indicates that the disciples came together that evening, meaning they hadn’t been together all day long.  Bottom line is we can’t read what isn’t there, and it’s inaccurate to judge Thomas negatively based on assumptions).  Jesus has departed prior to Thomas’s arrival, and Thomas walks into what must have been an incomprehensible scene:  His closest companions–all of them–are excitedly talking over one another insisting that Jesus, who had been crucified on Friday, had just been in their midst, very much alive, on Sunday night.  Here’s where Thomas’s story heads downhill in the minds of most:  His response to this excited gaggle’s claim “We have seen the Lord!”:  “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Oh, “Doubting Thomas.”  Your friends have told you that the impossible has just happened.  Why don’t you believe them at their word?  Why do you insist on seeing the evidence…  that they saw?  Wait… read that again.  Jesus showed up, and displayed his scars, and the disciples recognized him and were overjoyed.  Thomas walks into this scene of overjoyed-ness (I can only imagine the pandemonium).  Could it be that the author of the Gospel left out some of the dialogue between the group’s claim, and Thomas’s response?  Could someone in the group (whom I imagine were all talking at once, sharing their radically excited, overjoyed news with their recently arrived friend) have said, “He showed us his hands and his side!” prior to Thomas’s recorded response?  While that is sheer speculation on my part, the record is very clear:  Thomas simply asked for the same evidence that the clamoring disciples had already seen for themselves.  And for that, we’ve impugned his character forever.

Thomas wasn’t some sort of faithless, spineless loser.  He was bold, and he was honest.  Sure, the witnesses were his friends, but their claim was incomprehensible and unprecedented (there are differences between Jesus’s resurrection and Lazarus’s–namely, Jesus commanded Lazarus’s resurrection–he couldn’t very well command his own, since he was the one that was dead!).  Nonetheless, that wasn’t enough for Thomas to “believe.”  As I discussed in my post “Contemplating Doubt,” the word translated as “believe” has a lot more depth to it than just agreement that a fact is true.  It means committing and acting on the basis of that truth, to the point that if in fact it’s not true, you are going to suffer significant consequences.  We’ve already seen that Thomas isn’t afraid to stake his very life on something that he truly believes.  Here, he just says, in essence, “I’m not convinced enough to be fully committed.”

Folks, that’s not a sin.  That’s wisdom.  A friend recently called it “intellectual integrity.”  That means that Thomas wasn’t putting on some sort of bogus religious mask to hide what he truly thought and felt, trying to appear all “churchy.”  Thomas didn’t say he refused to believe.  He didn’t say he believed the story was not true.  He just said what was truly on his mind–he wasn’t there yet.

We’ve all been in situations of doubt, and will be there again.  Doubt is real, it’s important, and it’s often mishandled by people who mean to help.  Instead of condemning doubt, either in the church, or in society at large, we need to be open about it.  This is contrary to what many of us have experienced in church, and it’s contrary to what is rewarded in our American culture.  But if “you can’t have faith without doubt,” and faith is a good thing, then isn’t doubt a good thing, a necessary thing?

Another perspective on doubt

I’ve got a half-written draft sitting in the ether, as a follow-up on my last article on doubt.  I’ll get to it, hopefully soon.  In the meantime, check this out. 

The Scandal of the Evangelical Heart

I don’t necessarily ascribe to all of Rachel’s perspective, but if nothing else this article gives great insight into how doubt has been mis-handled, and how we ought to take the time to listen.  I read her precisely because I don’t always agree with her, but because we all need to have fresh perspectives of others.

Contemplating Doubt

Last Sunday I was privileged to get to teach.  I love teaching, and have been given a gift to be able to teach well… or so I’ve been told.  My biggest challenge right now is that I don’t have a regular teaching venue, so when I am given the opportunity to teach, it’s generally one session.  But when I start preparing, I often end up with a 7 part series.  I love to study (stuff I’m interested in) and my brain can find itself off on incredible journeys in the midst of those studies, yielding lots to say about lots of stuff.  There’s probably more than a little wisdom in only giving me limited engagements.  This blog serves as an outlet for some of that pent-up teaching desire.  The good news is that you’re not stuck here, and you won’t be obvious if you get up and leave…  In fact, the stat tracker on this site doesn’t have any way of knowing if you read the whole thing, or if you’ve already surfed back out.  You already count as one of my dozen or so readers!

Last week’s topic was “Doubt.”  I’m not sure how I arrived at this topic; I started thinking about what I was going to teach, and one interesting thought led to another, which led to another, and pretty soon I had taken an interesting journey through many amazing places, winding up on this amazing topic, with no idea how I got there, and not completely sure how I was going to get back.  If you’ve ever been on a snowmachining adventure I’ve led, you can completely understand.

Two things made “doubt” a compelling topic:

1)  I’ve been reading a really interesting book called You Lost Me.  The book recounts results from a landmark study by the Barna Group, which looked at 16-29 year olds (the “Mosaic” generation) through the lens of faith.  Subtitled “Why Young Christians are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith,” the book provides tremendous insight into an intriguing and underappreciated generation.  (As an aside, if anyone is interested in reading it, I bought it through my Kindle app, and I can “loan” it to “anyone I choose” according to the Amazon website–if you’re interested in reading it let me know, and together we can discover how loaning e-books works.)  It turns out doubt hasn’t been handled well in church, and is a major factor in the tremendous decline of Christian faith in Mosaics.

2)  My wife sent me this well-written editorial shortly after the Sandy Hook shootings:  “Why, God?”  In it, the author reprints a letter written by a Catholic priest in response to the title question.  The priest’s bold, insightful answer:  “I don’t know.”  BRAVO!

Over the years, Christianity has often held up doubt as the opposite of faith.  I can see how this occurred, but it’s not accurate.  In fact, doubt, or the potential for doubt, is a necessary ingredient for faith.  Faith, or pisteuo in Greek, is also often translated in the Bible as “believe,” which is unfortunate, because “believe” doesn’t capture the full meaning of pisteuo.  We use the word “believe” to mean “mental assent”–I agree that something is correct or true–I believe it.  I can even believe someone by giving my mental assent to what they’re saying.  But pisteuo has a much deeper meaning than mere “mental assent.”  For someone to have faith, they must not only give mental assent, but they must act on that belief as if it were true, and must have some element of risk associated with that belief.  I can believe (mental assent) I can fly by flapping my arms, I can even act on it by standing on the ground flapping furiously, but I don’t have faith in that belief until I jump off the roof and try to fly.  Silly analogy, but hopefully it helps clarify the distinction.

Doubt, in the Greek, is apisteuo, or “not-faith”.  This is an inadequate translation though, because it is certainly not the opposite of faith.  I characterize doubt as a condition where the three elements of mental assent, trust, and risk are not fully developed.  For instance, you might doubt the assertion, meaning you are not ready to assent to its veracity.  Or, you might think something is true, but you’re not so confident in your belief that  you’re willing to act on it, or to take a risk based on that belief.  This is doubt.  It’s not wrong, it’s not weak, it’s just not fully bought in. Doubt is a difficulty reconciling seemingly contradictory concepts.

Doubt isn’t a defect.  It’s normal.  In fact, it’s a necessary ingredient.  One of the most profound statements I have heard in years comes from my senior pastor, who said “you can’t have faith without doubt.”  Doubt is not the problem in our world today.  The problem with doubt is we often mishandle it….

Another Christian voice. Well said.


I am involved in politics, because I hate politics.

I hate politics because most people see it as their way of making a difference in their nation. If they get the person they want in political power then maybe things will look up. And in a democratic republic if everyone thinks this, then the losers will feel discouraged or offended – as though someone wanted their opinion but then ignored the advice they had to give.

I hate politics because people think that ALL of the principles they hold dear have some foundation in objective truth. Some policies and principles do. However, if you want to biblically talk about an economic structure and what would be ideal for our country, it seems that the bible is pretty silent. Christ told his disciples to pay high taxes to Caesar, the disciples and followers of Christ shared all their possessions within their…

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