Recently I have heard several people cite the following dictum in regard to the current presidential election: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  This citation is variously attributed to Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill.  It was once cited by President Kennedy.

In regard to the current election I am told that if I do not vote for Donald Trump that I will be helping the cause of evil, because if good people do nothing, evil will win.

This is a nice quote and certainly has some truth in it, but we should not confuse it with something from scripture.  In fact, scripture teaches us that sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.

First, consider Israel’s rescue from Egypt.  When they were in the wilderness and being pursued by the Egyptians, there were options before them.  They could have surrendered and returned to Egypt.  They could have tried to fight the Egyptian army (and likely would have been slaughtered).  But here is what Moses said.  “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.” (Ex. 14:13).

What were they told to do?  Nothing!

Or consider the time that Assyria surrounded the city of Jerusalem.  The Assyrians had already conquered Israel and now taken everything in Judah except Jerusalem.  The Assyrian leader stood before the city and said,

“Tell Hezekiah: ‘This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have the counsel and the might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? Look, I know you are depending on Egypt,  that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him.”

When the commander was asked to speak in Aramaic rather than Hebrew he said, “Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the people sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own excrement and drink their own urine?” (2 Kings 18:19-26).

What were Hezekiah’s options?  He could surrender.  He could hope that Egypt would come and help.  He could try and fight.  But he consulted Isaiah who told him to not fear, but to wait on God to handle the matter (2 Kings 19:5-7).  So, despite the great fears and pressure from his own people within the walls, Hezekiah did nothing.  Here is the result.

“That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!” (2 Kings 19:35).

Sometimes good people do nothing and it is the right decision.

In regard to the current political situation, I am told that I must support a man who openly claims to be a Christian but repeatedly calls people losers, stupid, and dummy, and makes fun of women on their menstrual cycle and people with disabilities. He also makes fun of the way people look (just ask Carly Fiorina and Rosie O’Donnell).  He argues for banning all people from a particular religious group from entering the country because a minority of those people are terrorists.  He tells us that people from Mexico are rapists.

There are other reasons to dislike Mr. Trump, but I have tried to stick with those that relate to the Christian faith since he openly claims to be a Christian.

Since evangelical Christians have greatly supported Donald Trump, we should ask what message we are sending to the growing number of non-Christians in our country?  I think the message is something like this: “We will put up with any behavior from a Christian as long as he can defeat Hillary Clinton.”

In other words, we will gladly get in bed with sin in hopes of defeating sin.

James Dobson backs Trump claiming that he is a baby Christian.  Since the apostle Paul said that it is not wise to have a baby Christian as a leader in the church (1 Tim. 2:6), I’m not sure why Dr. Dobson would want him as a leader of our country.

Because of those things (as well as some other things that have nothing to do with the Christian faith), I will not vote for Donald Trump.  Because of that some are citing the above quote to me about letting evil win.  But as I have pointed out, sometimes the best thing to do for good to win is to do nothing.  To do something (in this case, vote for Donald Trump) seems to me like getting in bed with the devil to beat the devil.

I am not trying to get you to refrain from voting for Trump.  I am only raising one simple question: How far are you willing to compromise your faith in order to beat the opposition? (BTW, this question applies equally to Clinton supporters)

If you pray hard enough you will win your husband back.  That is the take away from the movie “War Room,” produced by Affirm Films.  IMDb says this about the film.

WAR ROOM  follows Tony and Elizabeth Jordan, a couple who seemingly have it all-great jobs, a beautiful daughter, their dream home. But appearances can be deceiving. In reality, their marriage has become a war zone and their daughter is collateral damage. With guidance from Miss Clara, an older, wiser woman, Elizabeth discovers she can start fighting for her family instead of against them. As the power of prayer and Elizabeth’s newly energized faith transform her life, will Tony join the fight and become the man he knows he needs to be? Together, their real enemy doesn’t have a prayer.

A different company, Provident Films, produced a movie with a similar theme – “Facing the Giants.”  This film is about a coach facing adversity and termination which causes him to turn to God.  According to IMDb

He dares to challenge his players to believe God for the impossible on and off the field. When faced with unbelievable odds, the Eagles must step up to their greatest test of strength and courage. What transpires is a dynamic story of the fight between faith and fear.

In the end the team wins the game on a 51-yard field goal from a kicker who had never kicked more than a 39-yarder before.  The message here; trust God and you will win.

This is a triumphalist message at its best.  That message says that if you believe hard enough, God will help you overcome the odds. So if your husband doesn’t come back, you either didn’t pray hard enough or you didn’t have enough faith.  The same goes for the football team that fails to win.

It was just such thinking that led some of Paul’s opponents to accuse him of being weak.  “Bad things keep happening to him,” you can hear them say.  “If he were truly sent from God he would come with power like Moses.”  Many of those who learned the Gospel from him began to believe it.

In response Paul moved into the punch, rather than away from it.  In 2 Corinthians he said that he agreed with his opponents – he is weak.  He claimed no competence for himself (3:4-5).  In fact, he was nothing more than a clay jar (4:7-18).  Indeed, he was less than triumphant!  He was beaten, pelted with stones, shipwrecked, and was in danger from his own countrymen and Gentiles.  In addition, he  had many sleepless nights.  He went hungry, and spent time being naked and cold (11:25-27).

Meanwhile the triumphalists boasted about themselves and seemed to refer to themselves as “Super apostles” (12:11). In response, Paul said that he only boasted in the Lord (10:17).  To the charge of being weak, he confessed guilt, claiming that his weakness brings out God’s strength.  “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (12:10)

The triumphalist storyline in the movies listed above (as well as others) is counter to the Gospel.  There is nowhere in the New Testament a claim that those who follow Jesus are somehow going to win in this world.  To the contrary, the apostle Paul told the Christians in Thessalonica to expect to suffer (1 Thess. 3:2-4).

Is it possible that if you pray hard that your husband will return?  It is certainly possible, and we should pray diligently about such things.  But we should be under no illusion that if we have enough faith or pray hard enough that everything is going to work out fine.  You might recall that Paul asked God three times to take away his thorn in the flesh and God said “No” (2 Cor. 12:8-9).

While such movies encourage many, there are others who feel quite discouraged by them.  Once again they are being told that the reason that there are failures in their lives is because they lack faith.  If they just had more faith, they would win.  If they just had more faith, they would be triumphant.

Such messages pack pews and theaters, but they do not reflect the Gospel.

In a recent Huffington Post article Hillary Ferguson reflected on “The Ugly in Christianity.” Specifically, she talked about her experiences in Churches of Christ. She was raised in a Church of Christ and has attended a Church of Christ in many places, so her experience is not limited.

In describing the ugly she points to the racism and bigotry she has witnessed within Churches of Christ. As an example she tells of a woman in church who exclaimed, “Praise the Lord! Ted Kennedy is dead!” and went on to say “If I could, I’d go dance on his grave.” And it wasn’t just her. People around her laughed, apparently in agreement.

As a lifetime member in Churches of Christ and a Minister for more than 25 years, it is easy for me to be defensive about this. She is criticizing my tribe and therefore I feel a little like she is criticizing me. And there are some reasons to defend ourselves. I cannot discount her experience, but I will say that it is just that – her experience. Many of us have had some very positive experiences in Churches of Christ.

Having said that, I have also witnessed some of the things she is saying. And she is right! There is no place for this within the church. There is no place for a lot of things that we professing Christians do and say and think. But despite the fact that we claim to follow the Lord and have received redemption, we still all falter in many ways. I’m willing to bet that Hillary Ferguson would admit the same about herself.

This does not mean that our failings are acceptable – they are not! But I can think of at least two reasons why they are often overlooked. In the first place, too many Christians (not just in Churches of Christ) assume that the terms “Christian” and “American” are one in the same. Then they assume that “American” is synonymous with a particular political affiliation. This allows the political affiliation or the nationalism to trump the teachings of Jesus. The result is that Jesus would teach us that it is wrong to say “I would dance on Ted Kennedy’s grave,” but our nationalism and political affiliation allows for this.

I think a second contributor to our willingness to give people a pass for their sin is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as “Cheap Grace.” Churches of Christ have a history of being legalistic. However, at some point many of us were taught about grace and felt a breath of fresh air that we might have an ultimate place with God without getting everything right. However, once we begin leaning on the grace of God it becomes quite easy to presume upon the grace of God. “Whatever I do or say might not be the best, but I’m saved by grace, so I get a pass.”

As a Minister I am continually trying to challenge these ideas and calling people to Christlikeness. But as Jesus told us, the wheat and the tares are going to be mixed until the Lord returns. And they are mixed in every denomination of Christianity. So I know of no way of escaping this. The church is flawed.

The church would be great if it weren’t for the people. The problem is, I am one of those people. And so is Hillary Ferguson (unless she has quit Christianity altogether). Her critique is valid and we need to hear it. But since Jesus died for the church (Eph. 5:25), warts and all, I think it better to live within this body of believers and work (by the power of the Spirit) to ferret out the sin in my own life and that of my brothers and sisters.

Thank you Hillary for helping us see the ugly. Now, let’s get to work on it!

To Do Is To Be

Posted: February 25, 2016 in Becoming Whole

In 1969 a couple of researchers studied the effect of how doing good for someone would impact your feelings towards them. They invited people to come to a study where the man leading the research acted like a jerk. Participants were asked questions by him with the promise of pay. On the way out the door he asked 1/3 of these participants if they would mind giving the money back, given that he was funding the research himself.

It is difficult to imagine anyone wanting to return the money after being treated poorly, but some apparently did. But what is even more surprising is that the people who did so had a better feeling about the guy than those who were never asked. This is referred to as “The Benjamin Franklin Effect.”

I will not go into details about this. For further reading check out this link.

What these researchers discovered is that once you treat someone well (do them a favor), they tend to have a better attitude towards you. It can happen in the opposite direction as well. If you treat someone poorly, you will tend to have a more negative attitude towards that person.

In 1969 David Glass discovered that people will do this to overcome cognitive dissonance. Our actions and our thinking must be in alignment. When they are not we experience cognitive dissonance (or cognitive discrepancies). When we treat a person poorly it is difficult to think well of them. To help ourselves avoid cognitive dissonance we will begin thinking poorly of the person. We will begin to hate.

We often imagine that we feel a particular way and then act upon it, but very often the opposite is true. If we act a particular way our feelings will follow. Thus if we are seeking to become whole – to be formed into the image of Christ – one of the ways that this can take place is through our actions.

Actions lead to attitude. When we act like the monster we become like the monster. But when we act like Jesus, we become like Jesus.

Maybe this is why the apostle Paul said, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17) and Jesus said to “Do good to those who hate you” (Lk. 6:27).

To do is to be.

The People of Walmart

Posted: February 17, 2016 in Becoming Whole

Most of us have seen the images passed on to us through social media. The people of Walmart.

They are large people on those electric scooters trying to navigate the aisles. They are people dressed in such a way that you might think that it is Halloween. They are people who look as though a comb or brush has never made contact with their hair. They are the butt of many jokes.

Do you ever wonder about the backstory?

How many of them grew up in dysfunctional homes?
How many of them were bullied at school when they were young?
How many of them never had anyone love them enough to teach them about personal hygiene?
How many are addicted to painkillers?
How many learned addiction from their parents?
How many of them have been abused by a family member?
How many of them are still being abused?

You can find Walmart people in places other than Walmart. But many of us avoid those places. We even avoid Walmart. We don’t want to be around Walmart people. Except on social media. On social media we share the photos of Walmart people.

Do you wonder how Jesus might have felt about Walmart people?

Would he have avoided Walmart?
Would he have taken pictures with his iphone?
Would he have shared photos on Facebook?

I think we know how Jesus would have responded, because many of the people he encountered during his life might have been Walmart people if they lived in the U.S. today.

A woman who has worked herself through five different men (Jn. 4).
A woman whose daughter was demon-possessed and would have made quite a scene at Walmart (Matt. 15).
A woman who can’t stop the bleeding but still must make it to the store to buy groceries (Lk. 8).
A man who practices self-mutilation and has been relegated to residence in the cemetery (Mk. 5).

Each of these Walmart people has something in common; they are people created in the image of God. They are people loved by God. They are people for whom Jesus died.

It’s The Little Things

Posted: February 5, 2016 in Becoming Whole
He weaved through traffic in his Texas-sized truck.  I suppose the thing that irritated me the most is that not once in his maneuvers through traffic did he use his blinker.
It’s a small thing, I know.  I’ve done the same myself, so there is not a lot of room for self-righteousness here.  But it raised a question in my mind, both for the driver of the Texas truck and myself; why?
Why did he not see a need to use his turn signal?  The point of the turn signal is to let everyone know what you are about to do.  In addition to being a legal matter, it is a simple matter of courtesy.  It is your way of saying to drivers around you, “Hey, I’m about to change lanes.”
Why didn’t he do this?  Why have I failed to do it?
Prominent among all of the possible answers is a simple lack of consideration.  I’m not giving any consideration to you at all when I fail to signal.  I am only thinking about me and the fact that I am late to an appointment.
Here is the point; If I am willing to not consider you in a small matter, such as using my blinker, will I also not consider you in a larger matter? 
Several years ago a professional basketball player was reprimanded because he failed to show up to his team’s practice.  His comment to the media was, “We’re talking about practice.  We’re not talking about a game.  We’re talking about practice.”
He obviously did not see the value in practice.  But all coaches will tell you that how you practice (or IF you practice) makes a great deal of difference.  Those who are lazy in practice will be lazy in a game.  Those who do not pay attention to details in practice will not pay attention to details in a game.
Big things often come down to an accumulation of little things.
This is what a young Carmelite nun learned.  Thérèse of Lisieux  desired to serve God in some grand way, but found herself in a monastery where she would never make that big splash for the Lord.  What she soon discovered was the little way. 
She wrote,
Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.
Many of us wonder about the difference we might be making in the world.  We have not sold all to do mission work.  We have not established orphanages or converted thousands to Jesus.  Are we making any splash at all?
The truth is, none of us ever knows the full impact we make.  What we do know is that the little things all add up to a big thing in forming us to be more like Jesus.  In addition to making us whole, the ripple effects may leave a legacy that we will never know, but will change the world.
Another woman was so impressed with Thérèse of Lisieux that she changed her name to Teresa.  She came to be known as Mother Teresa.  I think she had a rather large impact.  All because of the little way.

A Snapshot of Messiness

Posted: September 2, 2015 in Messiness

“Otis is a 9-yearold African-American boy. His mother conceived him at 14, dropped out of school, and is on welfare. Otis has two younger siblings and one older sibling who is a gang member

You are Otis’s mother, Vangie. You are a 24-year-old female. You were the oldest of five children. You had your first child when you were 13. You have received welfare and food stamps since the birth of your first child. You lived with your mother until your fourth child was born when you were 18. Then you got your own place. You dropped out of school when you were pregnant with Otis. School was always difficult for you, and you never did feel comfortable reading much anyway. Your current boyfriend comes often and he works sometimes. Your mother lives down the street. Your weekly income (including food stamps) is $215. You move a lot because there are always more bills at the end of the month than money.”

This is a snapshot of one family’s messiness

It is an excerpt from Ruby Payne’s book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. This is one of several scenarios that Payne provides in the book. She does so to help teachers understand the gravity of the situation for many of their students. Payne wrote her book for teachers so that they could know about the needs of the children, but also so that they could know which resources they could and could not provide for them

Potential resources for the students include (1) financial, (2) emotional, (3) mental, (4) spiritual, (5) physical, (6) support systems and (7) relationships/role models. According to Payne, poverty is not just about the lack of money, but about the lack of the other resources as well. It is these resources that she believes are often available to educators. They are also available to churches. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual resources

However, sometimes Christians are interested in providing the spiritual resources people may need, but are less interested in the other needs. But spiritual needs are wrapped up with all of the other needs, not only for people in poverty, but for all of us. When you choose to involve yourself in the messiness of someone’s life, it is difficult to pick and choose your resources

Suppose our church provided a school uniform for Otis. Now suppose Otis’s mother signed up to have a prayer partner for her son. In addition, she gave her phone number so that the prayer partner could contact her. Suppose you are the prayer partner. A phone call to Vangie has led to visits, which has led to a relationship with Otis and Vangie. Before long you are hip-deep in the messiness of Vangie’s life

But you chose to do this because God got hip-deep in our messiness. The messiness of the world. But this messy work may be a long process. In fact, you may be fighting a losing battle. But of course, it sometimes seems like God is fighting a losing battle. And with some of us I suppose he is

Yet he continues to fight.