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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Many on the other side of this case make the argument that the amendment limits their freedom of speech.  They say that it means that they cannot “speak their piece” in support of or in condemnation of a political candidate or party.

I would respond that of course they can, and legally.   At any point in their private or even public life they can, just not as the representative of the nonprofit’s opinion.

Or, if being able to speak openly in support of a candidate as the leader of their church, is extremely important to them, then they should just rescind their own non-profit status and talk openly about it!  Being a non-profit is not a right, but a privilege that appropriately comes with some restrictions and some accountability.

I would go so far as to say that if they believe God is calling them to speak openly in support of a candidate, or in opposition to one, as a non-profit entity, they are obligated to follow God’s leadership and do so!   Fortunately, our laws provide for a completely appropriate and legal way to do that – don’t be a 501(c)(3).

Also, the way the law is written makes it clear that we, as pastors, are still completely free to speak and teach what we believe the Bible teaches.

I looked and in the most recent elections, I could find no mention of Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump in the Bible.  However, I believe that the topics of abortion, divorce, infidelity, homosexuality, greed, paying taxes, loving enemies, hospitality, war, and the rejection of racism (along with almost every other aspect of life in America) are dealt with in scripture.

I see nothing in the law that restricts in any way my engaging with those topics openly from the pulpit.  More importantly, it clears my table to stay focused on “Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).

I also feel confident that I do not want other religious leaders or “religious leaders” allowed to back a specific candidate by name under tax protection as a non-profit.  I think every pseudo-church that gives out licenses now will be accepting money then.

The good news that God loves us and has paid the price to adopt us is too important a message; we must be careful to not create the atmosphere of “Christianity and…” that CS Lewis warned us against.

I grant a point to those who are concerned about this law that it will become the restriction of biblical, moral, spiritual and life-topics, because they also happen to be political issues.

That eventuality, I would stand against to the death.  However, none of these are restricted in the current law.

On the other hand, I can imagine a day when what I see as protection is repealed.  I am approached by a generous person wishing to donate money to a valuable mission or project of the church, but also wants to make sure that I mention a certain candidate in an upcoming sermon.

This may sound nefarious, but this donor would know perfectly well that I support the platform of this politician, so why wouldn’t I?

At South Spring,we do not accept donations with strings attached in any way, so this would fall apart with us, but the pressure could be impressive.  Especially when the election seems close and the issues are life and death – which they are.

I prefer not to have to be regularly disappointing goodhearted people’s pleas for me to engage with politicians by name.  Passionate, well-intentioned people can get pretty desperate when they are afraid of what is happening to their country.  Further, even in the church, some people are present for poor motives or personal agendas.

I am convinced this is a small minority (and I am in this world every day), but that minority can be loud when they are on the warpath.  I prefer the world in which they have one less agenda issue to bring to me.

I do not think that pastors or churches should seek to be a-political, but I think the boundary of ALL non-profits being held to the standard of not supporting a specific candidate is reasonable.

Sadly, not all churches are as above board as mine about accepting donations.  Since churches do not file the complete paperwork for 501(c)(3) to the IRS that other non-profits do, some churches could support candidates financially as well, and it would be very hard to track.  I would hope that no “church” would do this, but I have to wonder if the temptation will be too strong for some to avoid.

I understand the complaint. There are times when being careful about this guideline seems restrictive – and is restrictive, but I see these restrictions and every bit as much a protection to speak freely as a limitation from doing so.

Perhaps some see this as an infringement on their rights, but as I understand it, so long as the enforcement isn’t ever abused (e.g., a pastor gets sued by the state for either voicing what they believe the Bible teaches about a topic that happens to also be a political one, or that they get sued by the state for voicing their opinion of a candidate in the church parking lot or foyer in a private conversation), then I see the amendment as allowing me to focus on the moral and eternal issues that it is my calling to focus on, without the distractions of people’s political agendas.

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Political issues

In general, I am a big fan of Christians being motivated by our faith to be involved in protecting the liberty via the political system.

I think it is vital that we understand how and why things work – even if they are not directly connected to scriptural issues – like raising or lowering taxes or gun control.

This conversation about the Johnson Amendment is an example of that, not a departure from it.  I think there are many excellent reasons for us to have an overt discussion on issues of freedom of speech from the pulpit and how that is matched with the protections offered by being a “non-profit.”

Non-profits and donations

Religious non-profits and churches in particular have a few advantages offered them over regular businesses.   The main one is that when people donate to a nonprofit (of almost any kind), the donor does not pay taxes on the money that they give away to a non-profit.

However, that also means that the person CANNOT delegate a specific person or political cause that the church should use that money for, nor can the donor receive any product or service directly for that money.

A person can donate to church and not pay taxes on that money they donated.  However, if a person pays for their kids going to youth camp, they do still have to pay taxes on that money (as income), since they are receiving a service directly for that money.

Sometimes it is a fine line, and the responsibility to manage these funds legally and morally are a big deal in churches.  A lot of energy goes to getting it right, so that those who give are able to avoid paying taxes on the money they earn that they then donate.

As most of you know, I am the Lead Pastor of a Baptist Church in the city that must be the little diamond on the rodeo cowboy on the buckle of the Bible belt.  It may seem odd that I would choose to write an article expressing my concerns, alongside many secular groups about repealing the Johnson Amendment.

As a Christian Pastor and someone who passionately holds to reasonable faith in Christ, I obviously disagree with nearly every aspect of the agenda of the secular organizations.   It isn’t my intent to strengthen those agendas on the whole.

In general, I am encouraged by that influence of Christianity in the USA, not concerned. I am a little concerned the direction that some Christian leaders are taking this issue.

The Johnson Amendment

When LBJ was a Senator, the amendment was passed on the US tax code prohibiting all non-profit (501(c)(3)) organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.  Specifically, it adds to the definition of such groups the phrases:  “…and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.”

I am under the impression that it didn’t draw much controversy at the time of its creation, and that does not surprise me.  The value of that addition to pastors is evident to me.

I am more surprised at the attention it has gotten recently.

Last year at about this time, Trump signed an executive order calling for the Treasury to be lenient in enforcing this amendment.  It is a law and the president cannot overturn a law by himself, but like Obama did with many laws, he has ordered the executive branch not to enforce a law – or at least to be lenient – or at least not to prioritize this amendment.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on legal matters, and I am not an expert on the Johnson Amendment, but I have never been troubled by it.

I have always assumed this rule was pushed into place by pastors and leaders of non-profits, so imagine my surprise when I see other pastors fighting to have it overturned.

We wrap up with Part 2 next week.

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Here in Tyler, Texas, we have a school named “Robert E. Lee Highschool”.

It is really a pretty good public high school.  Like all public High Schools, it has its share of kids from all kinds of backgrounds, issues, ethnicities, social levels, etc.  Like most public High Schools, this is one of its great strengths.

For the Christian family who chooses public school, any school is a mission field.  Christians are first and foremost, ministers.  We minister in our marriages, with our kids, our friends, workplaces and schools.  This is true of any school – homeschool, Co-ops, Private schools and public.  Any of these can be the right choice for a family, so long as the ethic of ministry is kept forefront.

As Christians here in Tyler, we are now facing a question that we might should have seen coming years ago.   The question, on the whole isn’t new.

The school was named in the late 1950’s – during the early days of the de-segregation movement.

At one point, the Rebel was the school’s mascot and a claim to fame was the giant (second largest in the world) Confederate Battle Flag (incorrectly identified as the “Confederate Flag” on Wikipedia) that the football team ran onto the field under.

In the early 70’s, some African American students were unwilling to run in under the flag and it was retired.  At about the same time, the “Rebel” name and confederate paraphernalia was dropped.

The new mascot was the “Red Raider” (I cannot find adequate background on what a “Red Raider” actually is meant to be, but I still wonder as to the close connection to several confederate groups that were called “raiders” – usually attached to a leader’s name.  (some seem to think there is a Native American connection, but I can find even less evidence of that).

I think like most conversations about things that matter, this topic needs and deserves more than the 2 minutes generally authorized in the town hall meetings and certainly MUCH more than memes and short FB and twitter posts allow for.  Real people are and were complex.  Even political issues are and were more complex than a meme allows for.

Consider the distinction between remembering something (or someone)

The in-depth discussion this topic deserves, at least my side of it,  at the local and national level begins here.

 

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/what-is-it-like-to-be-a-black-student-at-robert-e-lee-high-school

https://tylerpaper.com/news/local/robert-e-lee-high-school-s-history-reveals-complicated-past/article_5b539cf7-385f-534a-85cf-f75c7e9f2042.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_E._Lee_High_School_(Tyler,_Texas)

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As a counselor and a pastor… and as man, rites of passages are very important to me.

Throughout history and across people groups, rites of passages have been culturally vital ways to communicate to members of the community that they are taking on a new role within that community – boy to man, worker to leader, girl to woman, servant to warrior, etc.

The medieval noble families moved their sons from children to page around age 7, from page to squire around age 14 and from squire to knight around 21. The Massai tribes “capture” the boys from the women’s side of the village and declare them men and then train them to kill a lion; when they kill the lion they move from “runner” to “warrior.”

Today in America, we have essentially nothing cultural that communicates when a boy is accepted generally as a man.   The consequence? We have hundreds of thousands of males who are not confident that they are a man. The boy looks around and sees those he thinks of as men, but none of those men are making it clear that they think of him as a man… and many of those “men” doubt it deeply about themselves as well. Where can we find them? One option is to look outdoors.

I remember helping my father pile firewood in the wheelbarrow. I was there with him. He dropped the tree, cut it up, split it, loaded and hauled it, and stacked it. Probably around age 4, I was helping him to some loading. Then one year he had me push the wheelbarrow full of firewood (and incidentally, nothing will teach someone temper control like a one-wheeled wheelbarrow, right?).

Then one year he handed me a splitting maul and had me start splitting. I knew my father saw me differently. Maybe not a man, but not a boy anymore either.

He saw me as responsible, wise and strong enough for the edge.

And then, around age 17, he handed me the eye and hearing protection and with no preamble, talked me through using the chainsaw. I spent that day with him training me on various cuts and techniques (my father was a forestry professor). I went to be knowing that night that my father thought of me as, to an important degree, a man.

… but the message was plenty clear. In fact, I remember my father referring to an adult male the he apparently thought of as “less than a man” with the phrase “I wouldn’t trust that guy with a chainsaw.”

In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, in Deuteronomy chapter 6:7, the men of Israel are instructed to teach their children the truths of God not just a few hours one morning a week… but all the time…  “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” [1]

We cannot relegate these vital truths of life and death, God and Christ, sin and redemption, love and sacrifice, temptation and forgiveness to the voice any other man, even if he is our pastor. We, as fathers, must remember that responsibility still lies with us.

When, in today’s nonstop busy world with buzzing phones, are we centered and quiet enough to talk to our children about these things that really matter?

Over logs being tossed into a wheelbarrow, and after that wheelbarrow, despite the boy’s best effort, has tipped and dumped the whole load… or find the activity you can engage with, adding with intentionality to your child’s responsibilities, and talk.

These are when these conversations can happen without feeling awkward and forced. These are when the world’s problems are solved. These are when our sons might know that they are men. This is when our kids can hear that we are proud of them for no other reason than the truth that they are our children, even without words sometimes. This is when our children might know that they are, ultimately, not ours, but God’s.

In an effort to help us men out, I have created “The Gauntlet – A study that works even for busy dads and sons along the Deut 6 model.” To learn more or to find out how to purchase one, look at the resource page or email at chrismlegg@gmail.com.

How I handle these rites in my family might offer some ideas as well.

I also have done a rite of passage for an adult man that has some fun ideas in it.

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I am sorry that this two part article got broken up.  You might go back and refresh yourself with the first part again.

This level of “oddity” is so “common” that it inspired Tom Clancy to say that “the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.”

Mark Twain is given credit for “…Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.”

Recent events of flooding in South-East Texas have led to dozens of “unbelievable” accounts of people being rescued.  Unlikely though they may be, people are alive because of them.

But would the historians of the future think them merely myths, legends, or miracles – an ignorant people trying to explain something they didn’t really understand?

At church we went through a sermon series for a few weeks of looking at some of the “extraordinary” lives in the Bible… the likes of Paul, Mary, Zacchaeus, David, and others… and at the same realizing that their lives are extraordinary… Just like ours.

I think many people imagine that the accounts of people’s lives in the Bible for example, or biographies of other great men and women, are radically different from their own… but exactly what makes their lives believable are the ways they seem “out of the ordinary.”

And yet, they happened.

Is it likely that a client told me that that God has woken her up in the night for her to pray for the baby we were pregnant with – having never met my wife – even though we weren’t pregnant?

Or rather, didn’t know that we were?

That seems like a miracle.

They meet astonishing people. They are caught up in events that define their times and history. Unlikely things happen all around them.   Sometimes when we look back on our own lives, these things seem unbelievable, but they happened.

Is it believable that some orphan, Esther, spends a night with Xerxes? That some kidnapped Hebrew kid, Daniel, meets Nebuchadnezzar and Darius? That David faces a Philistine warrior giant and kills him?

It doesn’t seem so, does it? And yet, everyday “normal” people interacted with Napoleon Bonaparte, Florence Nightingale, Abraham Lincoln, Shaka Zulu, etc.

Normal people become everyday soldiers and periodically everyday soldiers become extraordinary heroes.

But all extraordinary heroes are also normal everyday people, too.

The fact that biblical characters have strangely, unlikely, even miraculous unexplainable events is part of what makes them believable!

What seems to unite our lives are the “unbelievable” things that happen.   The vast majority of people, when I have asked them, say that they have experienced “miracles”.

So, Ehrman says that since historians can only accept as accurate what was “most likely” to have happened and by (his) definition, miracles are “the least likely things to happen,” and therefore cannot be accepted as historically accurate.

But in this is a serious problem. So, all of the radically unlikely things that have happened to me, and you could not be part of history? Historians of the future cannot accept those as historically accurate?

In that case, they will miss the truth, because we were present for these events… for these extraordinary, unlikely events.

But they happened. I assume things like them happened to the people of the past,

too. So, it is exactly the accounts of them experiencing miracles that make their life accounts believable – not less believable.

The unwillingness to accept what is unlikely to have happened makes it impossible to accept what does & did happen. This understanding of history makes history a science utterly incapable of accurately describing the unlikely events that are universal to human experience and apparently always have been!

To dismiss the miraculous is to miss out on an accurate understanding of the human experience… and maybe what makes it the human experience.

 

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This is an era of when suicide is a part of the cultural conversation again, we need to be prepared to engage with it in a serious way.

The article I linked to above is for parents who kids are watching or who have watched the popular show “13 Reasons” – but in general, I think that the show is not appropriate for any audience.  It glorifies suicide and turns into a hero a teenage girl who is in serious need of help and yet instead chooses to take her own life and communicate it in a vengeful vindictive way.

Suicide is a complicated issue, biblically and psychologically.  I strongly recommend you check out this sermon on suicide I posted a few weeks back.  I think it will be very helpful to anyone.  All of us have thought about it, and all of us know someone who has taken their life… and others who likely will in the future.

However, I think what would be most valuable to many is just simple, practical guidelines for what to do when someone we know threatens suicide.

Anytime someone threatens, even in a veiled way, to commit suicide, we have two options:

  1.  Take it seriously
  2.  Not take it seriously

Typically, based on statistics, it would seem to be perfectly safe to go with #2., right?

Obviously, people threaten or hint at committing suicide all the time without actually doing it. There are many reasons why someone might even threaten without any intention of doing it.

Rarely do otherwise rational people become disconnected enough from reality to go through with suicide. The disconnection may not be what you think, but it is there when someone actually comes to the point of being willing to take his or her own life.

So, let’s examine option #2.  Anyone who can become delusional – who can experience a psychotic break from reality – can do things that are dangerous to themselves and others. They might get in a plane attempt to vanish without warning, or have an affair, commit suicide.  Even in those cases, the chances are low, right?

However, not taking it seriously can leave us with a dead or devastated friend… and we should not be willing to take that risk for a lot of reasons… one of which is that we do not want to carry the burden of our decision to not take them seriously after they are dead.

So, even if our odds of being ok not taking such a threat seriously are kind of good, the cost of being wrong is unacceptable.

Which leaves us option 1.

So, here are my recommendations:

Speak to a friend or family member and make sure she or he knows that if you suspect that they are a danger to themselves, then you are going to contact the police and send them to your friend to check on them and verify that they are safe.

Make the call.

It is also possible to send a family member who lives with them to check on them and keep a watch over them until they are safe. If that is not an option, then the police are the best option.

If the police do not think they are safe, they should take your friend to a hospital.  Your friend needs to know that you will always, without hesitation, contact professionals and police if you suspect that this person is a threat to themselves.  This is in an effort to protect your friend; and an effort to protect yourself from the regret that doing nothing can create.

So, she needs to make sure that if she is going to threaten or hint at suicide, that your love for her and desire for her best will motivate you to take her seriously.

If you are going to take her seriously, you have no choice to contact the professionals and/or get the police involved ASAP.

It is incumbent upon us to communicate this boundary with anyone who threatens or hints at suicide. Make sure they know that this is how you will respond to such things – that you will contact a professional and/or the police.

This kind of boundary will help you know that when the friend speaks of suicide, they are serious, since they know what your response will be. If, by some chance, they use the threat of suicide as a manipulative tool, this will put a stop to it.

If they are serious, you may save their life by refusing to keep their suicidal ideas secret.  If they are serious, then even if they are going to be angry at you for telling, when they are healthy again, they will recognize that you have done what a good friend would do.

If they are not serious about suicide, they probably are serious about getting help or attention or something – and you will have helped them in that way, too.  They will know you are a friend who listens and takes them seriously.

The cure for real suicidal ideation is hope.  People who care can go a long way toward giving us hope.  People who love us even more than they care if we are happy with them right now, give us solid hope. They give us some space to grow.

We all deeply desire to be heard and known.  Giving people, whether seriously suicidal or not, other options for being heard, cared about, valued, is quite a gift.   Help them understand that they are treasure and you can help them live an abundant life as the treasure they are!

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Crisis Culture

In our crisis-based nation (we seem to have almost no culture except for the culture of crisis… which, by the way, I assume is the unavoidable consequence of the culture of media that we developed in the last few decades. To paraphrase Frank Peretti , “TV does not reflect the culture nor affect the culture; TV is the culture.”)

Crises allow attention-seeking people to find that attention without earning it. I think this is a major cause of this cultural shift.   My generation, Gen X, was the first generation of Americans to not be drafted into combat and I think combat is probably a consistently trustworthy way to weed out attention-seeking people with a poor sense of identity outside of their role within the current crisis.

These people find purpose in creating problems for other people in their sphere of influence and are in a constant search to prop up their flagging identity by linking their identity to a cause that is in the attention of the public. They experience a sense of fear or even panic as the crisis begins to fade as its few hours or days begin to run short – and the next new end-of-the-world crisis begins to take over.

Add to that the fact that some of these cultural crises have created their own cottage industries and you can see how certain ones keep coming back. Racism is one of these. The entire world as well as the US has a long history of racist thought. Any concept of racial superiority is, and always has been, one of the stupidest thoughts humans have come up with. More has been accomplished in the modern western world to engage with and minimize racist thought than probably ever before in history and anywhere in the world… but it is still one of the culture of crisis’ favorites.

Again, there is still endemic racist thought.  It seems to be a universal experience for my African American friends.  It has to end.  It makes absolutely no sense that any black man would be treated any differently than a white man for no other reason than the color of his skin.  Absurd.

I am always impressed at my own inability to see from the perspective of people different from me – from other cultures, backgrounds, sex, ethnicity, etc. The more that is different about them from me, the less intuitive it is to me to see their way of thinking.

But I don’t think these crisis culture people are motivate by racism positively or negatively. I think they are motivated by likes, thumbs up emojis, clicks, and public attention.

It is the quantity of response they crave, not the quality.

Not everyone is like this who is involved, of course.  But some are, and I hate the thought of being lumped in with them hurts me.

In fact, this seems like a good time to communicate my assumption that I am off base in my understanding in some of this stuff.  I am sure that I have committed some of the same internally scripted thinking that is so tough for almost any of us to completely see.  There is nothing in this article intended to offend people who are sincerely struggling with this, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t!  If I did, I apologize.

Anyway, the attention seekers, and crisis culture addicts?   I see them as more innocent than another group – the baiters.

Hate –  baiting, of which race-baiting is an example, is a deeply evil motivation, and I think there are many in the US who are involved in it.  I want to take just a second to call them out.  I don’t care which side of these issues you are on.  If you are continuing to support and empower the role of racism in our culture, you are a race-baiter. The white supremacists and supremacists of any race are the easily (deservedly) seen to be culpable in this, but in my soul, I fear that much of it is motivated by some people who don’t hate nor really care… but just seek position, power, or election through race baiting. I hope I am wrong, but I think I am not on this one.

Followers of Christ must be different on this.  We are the peacemakers!

I also think I have an answer to the question of “how far do we take this?”  I think the line can be “honor” versus “remember”.

I know I mentioned this already, but I think we need to determine who it is appropriate to honor in our culture and why (big enough step, I know), but at least there are some we are likely to be able to agree on one way or another.  Those on the list who are on the “we know we desire to honor” list, we name things after them, etc.  Those on the “we know we don’t want to ask people to honor” we change the names or move the monuments into museums, where they can be remembered.

Now, who decides how to enforce this?  I think it has to be local governments – the more local the better, but I still think it is a fair way to come at the issue.

All this being said, all of the articles on The Theology of Race (**** link to follow) and this series of articles is really written to my Christian brothers and sisters.  I think the ethics of Christ give us some great guidelines for how to handle crises like this.  Let us not seek after our on interested above others.

May I beg all of us, especially proclaimed Christ followers, as we seek to

  1. humble ourselves,

2. grow up to learning to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4),

3. to live at peace with everyone (to the degree it is up to us),

4. to think about right things, and to

5. consider others more significant than ourselves,

6. to recognize that we are broken too, and we must consider our own motives. If we find ourselves craving those clicks, maybe we need to make no provision for the flesh which yearns for the comfort of such counterfeits of true value and identity, and wait before we respond, so that,“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The Apostle Paul, Romans 12:18 & 21

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